My latest commissioned piece is very special. First off, because it's a secret Christmas gift, so if you know this person, sssshhhhh. And secondly, because it's just an amazing use of personal ephemera.
I met Nanette in my Atlanta collage workshop, where she attended the weekend class with her good friend Susan. Susan found me online and purchased an original by me as well as some prints. (Thank you, Susan) and she decided to meet me in Atlanta.
At the workshop, Susan and Nanette sat right up front, they were excellent students and really enjoyed their time together. On Sunday, Nanette asked me if she could commission me to collage a very special cat. Her son Zane had a Maine Coon cat that was very special to the family.
A "Maine Coon" what is that? Well I did a little digging and found out that they are the largest domestic cat (up to 30 lbs) and are quite interesting looking, with their pointed whispy ears and toes!
the original photo with background removed, he needed some fun color to make him more lighthearted
Nanette was super happy with the computer composite, so I moved forward in the process. The first step was to take all the personal ephemera she sent me (including original hospital bands for both her and baby), and to stain it with fluid acrylic paints.
part sketch, part underpainting, on the easel
painting the personal papers Nanette sent from Zane's childhood
In my class, I talk about using the originals of things. The original birth certificate, the original hospital bracelet, the original pediatricians bill, the original report cards. This makes the finished collage extra special, and it gives you an opportunity to enjoy and appreciate these things every day as art, vs. once in a blue moon from that box under your bed.
the completed underpainting, what I collage over the top of-- 20x30
I created a Facebook Album with all the images along the way of this piece for Nanette to view and to share with her friends and family. She was thrilled to be able to watch it come together. (You do not need a Facebook account to visit this album)
personal ephemera was included in both the background color fields and the body of the cat
paper whiskers, finishing touches
Now that the piece is finished (the finishing touches were adding the paper whiskers) Nanette says that she can't wait for Christmas to give this very special gift to her son.
Thanks for supporting a working artist Nanette! Thanks for trusting me with your keepsakes. Thanks for meeting me in Atlanta and spending your weekend taking my class.
Finished, headed to varnish table, check back to Facebook for professional images of the finished piece
Annie and Yours Truly, 23 years later, Orlando, FL this week (that's one old hat!)
If you have ever watched that show America's Worst Tattoos on TLC, you already know that if your ink is bad, tired, or if you find yourself with your X's name emblazoned on your chest, you can always get NEW ink to cover it up. And what's more fun than new ink?
I worked and lived in London for six months on a work permit in 1990. Upon arrival, all the students from BUNAC were looking for jobs and housing together. I had arrived from the great state of Massachusetts, and Annie had come from California. We got to know each other, ended up living together, and both secured jobs as chamber maids cleaning hotel rooms. Annie was supposed to live-in at her hotel, but the conditions were kind of cramped, so she stayed on my floor for months. We couldn't have been happier.
One thing Annie and I realized early-on, was that despite her being born and raised in CA and me from MA, her father was originally from Boston. Not just any part of Boston, but from the very same neighborhood where my father grew up. Annie's Dad graduated high school with my Uncle Jim, the same high school my father attended. AND Annie's grandparents had a small market "Papplardo's Market" where my Nana used to send my Dad for break and milk. No kidding. This ink was Kismet!
Art Nouveau peafowl image
To Get Inked or Not to Get Inked
By the time I met Annie, I already had my first tattoo, it was a peacock on my right shoulder. A lot of thought process and consideration went into my first ink. My favorite period of Art History is Art Nouveau, I love all the organic lines, swirling woman's hair, and curled tail feathers of exotic birds. The peacock was a recurring theme in the Art Nouveau style. My first tattoo was very special to me, I designed it and I was proud of it.
At some point Annie, my roommate Dave, and I decided to commemorate our time in London, our friendship, and our experience living and working in a foreign land, by getting tattooed together. All three of us would get the same artwork, in the same place. That was the plan.
By the time the three of us made it to Marc Saint's Tattoo Studio on Portobello Road in London, Big Dave had chickened out––all 6-foot Ohio State rugby player of him! Annie and I were on our own in making this permanent artwork not only part of our bodies, but our hearts and souls.
Annie and the Man who chickened out
Marc Saints Tattoo Studio, with a name like Saint, how could we go wrong?
The art we decided to have permanently inked on us was drawn by Yours Truly. It was simple black line art (we were, after all, broke), a graphic dove outline with a peace sign in the middle. We were listening to a lot of The The's 1989 album "Mind Bomb" in our little flat those days, and I have to say that I think the back cover art kind of influenced our creativity.
The back cover art from The The's "Mind Bomb"
To Cover up or Embellish?
Annie and I had first played with the idea of adding to our tattoo when I went to visit her in CA this April. We loved that fact that 23-years later, we still had the story of that tattoo, to bring back so many wonderful memories of our time together. Any time in my life when someone asked me about that dove tattoo, I got to relive some pretty great stories.
one of my initial sketches for adding to the existing art
After some discussion, Annie and I decided that the dove had lived a long 23-years and had probably run its course. We thought we'd cover it up with something more delicate and beautiful, all the while knowing that it would always be underneath. We were going to add to the art and the Story of Us. She would be in Florida in the months to come on business.
The Art of Tattoo Cover Up
I had to have my original peacock art covered up. That original ink from my senior year in college had faded and blurred and really was hard to discern. As much as I wanted to be a purist and keep it, I knew that I could not continue to answer the question "what is it?"
My sister, ever honest, pointed this out to me: "If anyone does the math on how OLD you have to be to get tattooed in the first place, and how LONG it takes for ink to get really worn down, is really going to get the idea how OLD you (we? she has inked art too) really are!" You need to get that re-done.
And there it was.
I found an artist who was known for his cover up work here in Orlando, I interviewed him, I made an appointment, and I had him cover up my very first tattoo with new peacock art.
Rick Johnson of Orlando Brothers Tattoo is an artist, not only does he sketch out ideas for you by hand, but he's a great draftsman and very talented with the needle. Rick told me that he could always draw, he had that talent since he was young. It was his brother who first started tattooing in Daytona Beach, FL and taught him how to translate his artwork from paper to skin with the gun.
"In those days I was a roofer, in Florida. That was a nasty job, hot, dirty and lots of hours." he said, "When my brother showed me how much better I could do in Daytona at bike week in his shop, I was hooked."
what is it?
The master of cover up at work
um yeah, it hurts.
Last Summer I got inked with my Dad, He wanted to honor his parents and he wanted to do it with me. He came to visit from MA and we went to see Rick. My Dad's birthday was what we were celebrating, so I decided to have tattoo art on my right ankle in honor of someone very special to me too.
Dad and I had a great time that afternoon, laughing and talking about his old Navy tattoo and my peacock cover-up artwork from the summer before. I bought my Dad's ink for him, I told him it was my birthday gift to him. I gave Al a gift he will have forever, not only the tattoo, but the experience. He will always be able to tell the story of how the art honors his parents, how his daughter bought if for his birthday, and how we both got tattoos together that day. That's sentimental.
My Dad down from MA, Rick Johnson, Yours Truly
My Dad got art and ink in memory of his parents. My Grandpa was French Canadian and my Nana was Irish.
I got a pink rose, the flower that was planted in Lockerbie in memory of my friend Suzanne 25-years ago when she died in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. A little Art Nouveau flare in my design.
Annie and I made our way to Rick's new space on Lee Road in Orlando. On the way there, we still had not worked out a good sketch. We had faith in each other and in Rick that we would come up with an idea. Since I had suggested and drawn the Dove art back in 1990, I was really glad when Annie came up with the idea of cherry blossoms as our art. "Think about it" she said, "they are short lived, beautiful blooms. For the Japanese the represent the frailty and fragility of life. World War II pilots had them painted on their planes." And there it was.
Rick quickly sketched out this cherry blossom shape to not only with perfect petals to envelope the Dove, but also to represent. He listened closely to our story, and he took it all into account before he went to sketch.
"Two blooms, for two friends, " he said "and one blossom to represent new life, future experiences together." It was perfect.
Rick Johnson's sketch for our cover-up work
Annie and Yours Truly have added a chapter to the Story of Us
From the Heart
Tattoos are artwork that you can take with you everywhere you go. When someone asks you about your ink, you can smile and remember a story, a loved one, an experience. This artwork is always with you, it's a part of you. Whether you get tattooed with your friend from college for the first time ever, with someone you met in a far away land who became one of the best friends you've ever had, your beloved father, or even your fun loving sister (yeah, she's coming next month! but she's going to Rick with my moral support only). It's art that evokes memories.
Annie put it really well that afternoon at Orlando Brothers Tattoo. She said, "For me it's about the experience and the underlying meaning of the image we choose. I am not an artist, so I cannot make a drawing, or art direct the design, I put that in the capable hands of the tattoo artist. I'll always have a very special place in my heart for the connections we have to each other, to the Peace Dove and to the idea that you have to cherish every moment you have in life, because the bloom of the Cherry Blossom is short."
And we looked at the flowers and agreed, "it's so pretty!"