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Progression: A guy walks out of a bar…

It was July 11th 2011 and I found myself at Cafe 101 on Van Ness celebrating my cousin Josh’s 24th birthday. I was there with my girlfriend at the time, Zarah, along with Jesse, Grace and my friend Whitney.

At one point Zarah wanted to step outside to smoke a cigarette. I followed her out at a reasonable distance, and just as I stepped outside to round the corner into the alley I heard a voice calling out behind me.

“Hey wait! don’t leave don’t leave!”

I paused, but stuck close to the building, it was clear he was not talking to me.

A man walked out of the bar, about 6’5″ and proceeded to approach Zarah as she lit up her cigarette.

“Oh good, I thought you were leaving, I was about to say, don’t leave. I haven’t even had a chance to buy you a drink yet.”

Zarah’s eyes darted over to me. I smiled. This was funny.

“You know you’re beautiful?”

“I know.” she laughed

He finally acknowledged my presence and asked the same question to me. “You know she’s beautiful?”

“Oh yes, believe me I know.”

Maybe it was the way I looked at her, and the way she smiled, but he seemed to put things together in that instance.

“Oh..wait….are you two together?”

We both nodded and finally indulged in a bit of an embrace.

“Wow, well you are very lucky.”

“Thank you. I do know this, though.”

“Well I don’t want to sound like a creep, I don’t mean to keep you I just wanted to tell her how beautiful she was. Hey listen, when you guys are ready for a drink, just tell the bartender Allie that it’s on me. You ladies have a nice night now.”

He turned and went back inside. Zarah and I took a few moments to chuckle about that situation before we went back inside. He was there sitting at the bar and raised his glass to us as we walked by.

Weird, but it didn’t make me uncomfortable. Zarah is gorgeous, and to me, his actions were entirely appropriate. He attempted to hit on her and when he found out she was spoken for, respectfully backed off. Sounds good to me.

Of course, most men don’t usually quit that easily and he was one of those men. After a few moments of conversation, Zarah returned from the bar and told me that that guy (Reggie) wanted to do shots with her. I told her she was more than welcome to let him buy her drinks, all night in fact. And with that, she went toward the bar.

After some time had passed, I got up to use the bathroom. When I got back, I saw that she was still at the bar. When she saw me, she waved me over and Reggie promptly bought me a drink.

“Man, this girl thinks you’re really something.” he said.

“Well thank you, I am in fact.”

He laughed. “I know I’ve been sitting here all night trying to get her to leave you for me, and all she keeps doing is talking about how great you are.”

“Oh yeah? and why should she leave me for you.”

“Well, for one thing, I’m rich and famous.”

“Oh yeah? Tell me more.”

He then proceeded to wave the bartender over to where we were sitting. He whispered something to her and she handed him a black duffel bag. He opened it and inside it were bundles and bundles of $100 bills. There must have been close to $50,000 in cash in this black bag. I had never seen so much money before in my entire life.

“So you’re a drug dealer?” I said.

He laughed. “No no no. I play professional basketball, overseas in Angola. I just got back to the US and I had to exchange a bunch of currency. Trust me, you can Google me.” (and I did, right there on the spot, and he was telling the truth)

“Oh I see. Well, that is quite impressive.”

“Your girl here was showing me some of your artwork and you’re pretty good.”

“Thank you, I try my best.”

“Do you do commissions?”

“Absolutely.” I mean, what the hell was I supposed to say? This guy had just flashed a bag full of money at us.

“What do you say you paint me a picture.”

“Sure, what would you like?”

He asked Zarah to bring out her phone again. Apparently while I was in the bathroom she was showing him my website. He pointed to a piece I had done way back in high school. A black and white self-portrait. Unfortunately, that piece was already sold and I couldn’t give him that one. Instead, he requested a custom portrait…of Zarah.

That’s a little weird, but it was the least I could do, since clearly he wasn’t going to get to sleep with her. I ran it by Zarah and asked if she was okay with this. I mean, essentially her face was going to be in some creepy (yet endearing?) strangers house. Immortalized.

She was only a little bit drunk when she agreed to this.

Reggie and I discussed our terms, which resulted in me walking out of that bar with $800 in cash. The next day I bought a canvas and went to work. It took me 2 days to get through, as it was a very simple painting. After I finished the most detailed portion (her face) on the first day, I got to work on the second portion (the petals). It went something like this:

2 weeks later, I returned to the very same bar. Only this time, I had the painting in hand. Reggie showed up, slightly embarrassed by the conditions under which our last meeting took place.

However, he made good by his word and expressed his gratitude. The painting was better than he expected (Why don’t people ever think I’m going to deliver on these?) Anyway, he couldn’t stay long so he thanked me and handed me another $700 for the second installment.

And that is the story of how a guy who wanted to sleep with my girlfriend eventually ended up commissioning a painting from me, and paying me $1,300.

the end.

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Pomegranate Progression: a personal story

“But the spheres are pomegranates and the music is the sweet-bitter jangle in your mind / when you pierce the skin and discover what’s inside.” 

-K.M.Hawkes

Two years ago today, I finally completed this painting. Out of all my work, this painting means the most to me because over the 3 or 4 months during its creation, it pushed and pulled me in different directions, threatening at times to tear me to pieces. I went through a different style, different colors, different scale, and an all-around different emotional experience and state of mind. I certainly see that my artwork underwent a fundamental change after I did this painting, and I think it is about time it earned its own post.

This piece, perhaps more than any other, is a careful combination of overwhelming inspiration, constant frustration, emotional challenge, and masochistic physical labor. All of it occasionally punctuated by drug-induced hyper-focus.

First and foremost, this is a nude portrait of a woman. Second, (and this is more of a confession)  it’s someone I know.  It is also someone who has played a very curious role in my life over many years. That is the story I wish to share, thus making this the most personal entry ever.

It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I am a lesbian, but surprisingly, I did not always know this about myself. Around the time I met Genevieve, I was either not completely “out” yet or I had just come out. In any case, I was just beginning to unpack my feelings for other women and it was all very new and scary. It was akin to my current feelings about liquid eyeliner: I know I want this, but I’m terrified and not quite sure what to do with it yet. 

I wanted to paint about it in a way that made me feel comfortable, but I was afraid of attempting to paint a woman. I asked myself how that would even work, where would I start? What colors would I use? (all of my previous human forms had involved the male figure and had been blue) would they be small or large-scale? (I had big feelings about this…so large canvas right?)

Thankfully, life helped me answer all of these questions soon after I met Genevieve. Something about her made me feel as though I had been hit with a sledgehammer. Right in my chest (crack open my sternum and poke). She was captivating and beautiful and I never forgot that feeling I had when I met her on the rugby pitch. She had the sun behind her and her reddish-brown hair in a braid. I saw her and I died.

During our long-distance friendship, I had gone through a few relationships, as did she, but we had always remained in touch. Looking back it would seem that I had always been utterly paralyzed by how beautiful she was. This was new, certainly, and while I found it easy to forget about her while I was in a relationship, the times when I was not were plagued with crippling desire.

I remember writing something about her. I can’t find the entry but I did find this word cloud I made around the same time to give you an idea of where my mind was. Essentially, I described my feelings for her as…

“like licking the dried droplets of wine off the rim of the glass. It leaves a glorious taste on your tongue, but leave you utterly unsatisfied…”

and casually threw in a mention that her body reminds me of ripe fruit. You know, normal things you say to girls you are infatuated with.

I can’t believe I am making this public.

 Toward the beginning of 2011 I was going through a very interesting time in my life. I was newly single, living in the gayest city in the world and finding no shortage of women to give my attention to. Just as expected, my feelings for Genevieve were resurrected and became so strong that it literally made me feel sick to my stomach. I finally got to the point where I felt like I was drowning in this feeling, and I couldn’t contain it anymore.

I rolled out my 8 foot by 6 foot piece of raw, un-stretched canvas and decided I needed to paint, otherwise, I was going to explode. 

The best part is that she knew everything the whole time. I have this unique affliction where I am not only incapable of lying, but also incapable of hiding my feelings. Therefore, I told her everything. She acknowledged it without reciprocation but ended up doing something much more helpful.

After hearing of my plans of the mural that I insisted I needed to paint otherwise I was going to die, she willingly offered her help in the form of a photograph to use for reference. I remember waking up to the message and the photo (the morning of her birthday) and I recall very clearly that I shed actual tears.

The last part of this story is the progression. I found in the depths of my external hard-drive that I had documented the progress I had made in this piece. I will not post the original photo she sent me, but I will start the progression with the sketch I did based off of the photograph. Since I am a pretty damn good sketch artist, you will get a very clear idea of what I had to work with.

So this is what the canvas went through over the course of 2 months:

Sketch
Sketch with proportions
Sketch on Canvas
Prepping the highlights
Color light to dark
More color
Finish coloring
Begin detail highlights
Outline composition
Spend 10 hours painting via drug-induced hyper-focus
Marvel at how you managed to convey ripe fruit and apply finishing touches

And that is how I managed to put years worth of pent up feelings into a painting and also why this is my favorite piece.

I hope you all enjoyed that.