Thursday, November 19, 2015

Everything needs its individual attention

The question of giving every student different treatment and a varied set of tasks based on his/her personality has been haunting me for a while. Time and time again I see that inevitably one or two students in each class need a lot more time on each project than others. I feel awful hurrying them along, as typically these are the students who truly pay attention to details, are quite the perfectionists and want every one of their pieces to truly become a work of art. But then what do I do with the rest of the group? I can't constantly split up, on occasion into three separate corners - where each student is doing something different based on his/her skill set and interests. It makes me crazy, I'm feeling like my head is about to explode in all these different directions.

This painting has been attempting to give me answers to that question. I went into it with my typical expressive approach, covering the canvas at once with slashes of my favorite palette knife. It all somewhat worked, but all the elements seemed to lack their own personality. And it occurred to me that I can't treat the surface of the water in a completely identical way in which I'm handling the tree growth, or the clouds floating along. They each move in their separate way: trees reaching up, clouds circling along, water drifting in horizontal lines. I need to copy their movement with my lines, being mindful of each and every personality, so that it could be a valid form in the composition, so that all these actors can have a dialogue with each other.

And yet, these are all parts of one whole painting, and all these personalities have to coexist in it. Trees and sky reflect in the water, merging and balancing out colors, shapes and lines of the final piece. It's just like all people ultimately coexist in one society, somehow learning along the way their ways to cope with that society's demands. So then even though a conversation with each student can be slightly different - should my final goal be to teach them integration into their group? That would ultimately give them an important life lesson, correct?

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

How do you set your priorities?

This painting has been haunting me in its purpose because it's a sudden internal shift from trees and all their symbolism to a cityscape. Did I need to do that for more people to understand me, or was it something inside of me that wanted a new or rather re-visited challenge? The answer to this question I don't know even now after the painting is finished.

What I do know is that it was a true lesson in setting priorities. What is more important to me - the infinite sky, the haunting water, or this magical town highlighted by rays of sunshine? It was a constant adjustment of what hides and what comes out. Especially fascinating was how the darkening of one element brought out another. 

One day my friend and teacher, Andrey Tamarchenko, came to visit, and said that textures can be varied throughout - treatment of water and sky should be softer than the rough outlines of a city with its decaying walls. I ended up making the sky and water more pale, and suddenly the city became clearer, as if coming out of a mist. But it bothered me because the city wasn't my focal point. It was actually the opposite - what I loved was the cityscape's complete integration into the landscape, how it effortlessly coexisted with the cloudy sky and the murky water. I changed it yet again to level out the planes, and that made me happy. So is the lesson to take away from this process the opposite of what I'd initially thought, and in fact you can really have it all? Or that perhaps you always need to make a list of priorities?

Friday, October 9, 2015

What it feels like to paint full time

 What is different about taking myself seriously, calling myself an artist and painting almost every day? For starters, the process is a lot faster, both for getting initial inspiration, as well as the development of the piece.

It hits me, this energy that makes my fingers twitch in anticipation, like a little child's, even at the point of getting into the car and heading to the studio. The hand attaches itself to the palette knife immediately and is being led somewhere instantaneously. It feels like you never left and you simply start where your conversation with the painting ended the day before.

I am absolutely wiped out at the end of each session and I don't get the weekly insights into my inner psyche like I used to. It's a job, a demanding process that requires intense concentration, and listening to an inner voice, following what it says, despite hunger, bathroom needs, fears being pointed out constantly by my alter ego of my inadequacy, lack of time, lack of focus, etc.

And at the end it turns into a lesson in trusting yourself and your intuition when perhaps just an hour ago you stumbled in that ability in everyday life. I am so thankful to AOTA art for giving me that chance to discover what it means to be a true artist. The paintings in this post are the three large scale paintings that were chosen for Chestnut Hill's Art in the Square exhibit.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Painting is my process of empowerment

A great article in the Free Daily Press has just been published with my thoughts on what painting means to me, and what it means for me to be empowered. I never gave it much thought before I was given an opportunity to participate in this one of a kind outdoor public exhibit in Newton at Chestnut Hill Square. Please do go see it before it closes on October 17th. Here're some sneak peek photos from the opening event. Photos courtesy of Mark Wilson Images.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Never rush to please the crowds

A more beautiful twin trying to please the crowds - this trite phenomenon played out with this poor baby.

It was stunning from birth. I couldn't take my eyes off it and didn't quite know whether I should touch it too much in fear of ruining it. And then, right before a scheduled exhibition, this awful need to impress took over me and in a course of an hour I worked it to such a degree that it could no longer be part of the exhibit. No one noticed its absence of course, but I did. It brought me to thinking back on why I ran from the gallery world, about how I missed standing in front of the canvas and simply enjoying my process of a conversation with self. Somehow I lost track of why I paint in the first place. These attempts to get recognized, to be an official artist, to earn money as one - turned me into an obsessive attention seeker.

The adult students' behavior at the show was yet another example of simply knowing what you need as a person. It isn't laurels and clients. It's knowing that your creative energy birthed these stunning works - that's all. That's what it's about. The simplest lesson of all - do something because you need to do it, not for the sake of others' approval.

This piece is titled 'Adam and Eve'. It's been sensual, sexual, haunting and brilliant in giving me this simple truth. The bonus is that you can't ever completely destroy anything - you simply return another day and fix it, or it fixes itself...

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


This painting has been a torture. It was attempting to come to life amidst declines from juried shows and galleries. I was in a particularly foul mood for weeks. Yet, it has been moving along despite it all and in a very strange way. I've been noticing that the drips don't just come down, (laws of physics and all), - they follow certain ridges and roads that I had left previously. Every time I would come back to paint, I'd be afraid that things would progress too fast. Yet, my barriers created intriguing little turns and twists for paint to follow.

At first, those closed gates seemed to play along with my depressive tune - 'you can't jump over your head', 'you can't go beyond your pre-set limitations' - little mean voice inside my head kept saying...

And then I returned one last time and suddenly thought - 'But wait, I am the one who creates these closed gates. It's completely up to me to open some and close others. It's my choice to direct the flow slightly. I set my own traps.

Just like in life, I can always walk into those pre-designed lived-in scenarios. Or, I can make a conscious decision to behave differently - not sacrifice myself, my time, my energy, but create more meaningful satisfying relationships.

It was truly brought home when I would stand as usual with one arm melting the paint, and the other holding a palette knife, ready to place another automatic mark in another section of the painting. But something inside of me kept saying time and again - 'no, put down the knife, use this arm to consciously turn the canvas and create new paths'...and I did.

Friday, May 15, 2015


I was part of a unique and very insightful workshop a few weeks ago, led by my art teacher and life coach Andrey Tamarchenko, and Judith Schafman, a psychologist who specialized in dream work.

It introduced me to a very counter-intuitive, yet very liberating approach to painting, which utilizes layers of meditation. The work therefore also consists of layers, often invisible. It bothered me at first that they're unseen - there I am putting all this energy in, and you can't see half of my work. But now that I've tried it a few times, I can tell that underlying sketches still remain - in the feel of the piece, in its energy. And when you keep reworking the painting, and are so afraid of taking sections away - they never do go away completely. Key elements will always be felt. It's such a stress relief to know that.

It's like when you start a new job and you feel that you're starting from scratch. Yet you always bring what you had already learned with you. When HR departments hire recent college graduates - I hope they know that those periods of intense research, sleepless nights, deadlines - were all there, they shaped a person's ability to concentrate. When one relationship ends and another starts - you're a person layered with knowledge of past mistakes and accomplishments...

I've begun to truly enjoy watercolors, after almost 20 years of utilizing them for sketches. I finally understand their layers and how nothing quite goes away, but can only be made better with time.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Controlled Impulses

I'm very impulsive by nature. Something comes over me and I follow the urge, I trust it to lead me to a good place. Most often than not it does. Yet, sometimes, I lose momentum, things start falling apart, and I blame it on the initial impulsive decision. Should I? Or is it that loss of faith in my intuition that dooms the task at hand?

I've just read a great NY Times article about restoration being done on Jackson Pollock's 'Alchemy', one of my favorite paintings of all times. Everyone always talks about automatic techniques Pollock had used, the pure happy accidents that followed, his constant drunken state. I never thought his pieces to be accidental, and I'm happy the article shows scientific support of this belief. Every drip area, every color combination was premeditated, even in very large works. Surely, his intuitive senses played a huge part, but so did his formal education, his analysis of how an onlooker's eye should move in a piece to make it lively and compositionally sound.

I just finished a piece that I was told differs greatly from all my other work: it feels larger, it's light is coming from within, it breathes. I'm thrilled with it, and I believe it's my trust and follow through on intuition that brought it to this state. Sure, I used my traditional melted drips, but they were carefully controlled, adjusted in certain areas, intensified in others. Layers kept piling on, yet each uncovered nuances underneath. The palette was limited: colors with which I had never experimented before were carefully juxtaposed. Finally, I left a lot of empty room for it to breathe. It's simply marvelous: it feels like a breath of crisp air. Intuition is certainly a force to reckon with yet nurture...

Friday, March 6, 2015

Making the case for mindfulness therapy

It was certainly a call for action that I had caught this program not once but twice on NPR, an analysis of various mental therapy options out there today, which was absolutely fascinating. It described the old Freudian ways, the movement in the 80's stemming from Beck's automatic thought theory, and lastly went on to talk about a 'New Age' wave or 'Mindfulness therapy' movement that is becoming prevalent today around US.

Essentially, 'Mindfulness therapy' acts like a meditation away from your gnawing problems and thoughts. There was an excellent analogy there when someone stuck a book in front of their face, obstructing his vision. He obviously couldn't focus on the book because it was covering his eyes. When he put a book on his lap where he got some distance, it was in his peripheral vision, and only then he could get a clearer way to read it.

A process of painting (or dance, or making music, or yoga, meditation, etc.) is that form of mindfulness therapy. You force yourself to concentrate on your project at hand so hard that your everyday worries are at least resting for a bit.

I accidentally attempted this process in my own latest painting. I worked on melting a certain part of my canvas but then moved my eyes and started thinking about another section, completely losing myself in new ideas. Meanwhile, the old area now in my peripheral vision kept changing, without my stressing over its completion. No matter how hard I tried to bring myself to focus on one square at a time, my eyes and thoughts would wander around the whole surface. I then decided to just take that process as a given and was able to multitask. I mixed new colors while melting a certain area, allowing the canvas to essentially work itself out. It's a truly magical painting that came as a result, because it didn't require my constant attention.

Meanwhile, my adult classes inadvertently shaped two separate life changing situations. Yes, mindfulness therapy does wonders for your brain!

Friday, February 13, 2015


Amazing how a process of creating a work of art is also a time to draw insights into life's general issues. It never fails. I inevitably come out of every session with an 'aha' moment.

We were on a tropical vacation on a beach (yes, I wish we did this in February as opposed to December, ...alas, the memory of it lingers). I, of course, brought my watercolors, but with two kids and the myriad of scheduled activities, it was impossible to let myself relax and paint. I did force myself, just once.
I set up on a beach, obsessed with the colors and shapes of a stormy sky and unnaturally calm green water, and I really wanted to quickly get these warring emotions onto my painting. It had to be super quick before the 2 year old had another tantrum and the 6 year old got bored with the beach. And nothing was coming out. It was a flat surface that simply wouldn't breathe.

And all of a sudden this little inner voice said to me: 'You just need time. Sometimes you simply need time to let it come into its own'. And I did. I decided that I don't care if there's a tantrum. That once during this vacation I'm allowed to think of just me.I let the watercolor develop, with time and layers. It then dawned on me that everything in this life needs time. There's no need to constantly rush in to solve a problem. Time will tell, will heal, will let things play out and reveal their true meaning. I've gotten so much calmer since that little epiphany. I don't force anyone into a specific plan. I don't force myself to accomplish things in accordance with a strict deadline. Time will show the proper way.