Picture Perfect

Last month I went on and on about what a talented artist my brother is. And he is. But as an older sister it was just a matter of time before I challenged myself to see what kind of artist I am. I realized I was setting myself up for relative failure; anything I would create would pale in comparison to the work of Daniel Mahlman, but I thought this exercise would help me become more comfortable with doing something just to do it, not to perfect it.

Last week I attended “So You Think You Can Paint,” an event held at the Copley Society of Art, the oldest art non-profit in America. The gallery’s Circle Board (I am a member) sponsored the event where the very talented artist Rosalie Shane inspired a group of us to flex our artistic muscle. Rosalie is well known for her oil paintings of cupcakes with a heavy application of paint creating very realistic frosting. It all started when she painted one for her granddaughter’s first birthday. Eight years on she has painted hundreds of cupcakes, and last week she attempted to teach a roomful of would-be artists to do the same.

I am a better painter than sketcher

I sat down with a small canvas and my model, a Pepto-Bismol pink topped cupcake, which Rosalie was so kind to make for the occasion, and set out to prove that the artistic family genes had not gone exclusively to my little brother. I started out by drawing a cupcake on the canvas. It looked more like the mushroom cloud over Nagasaki than a cupcake, but I convinced myself that I could improve its shape with paint.

I mixed a bright (imagine that, me utilizing a bright color) shade of teal to create the background for my cupcake, then I used a light gray for the table on which it would sit. But when it came time to paint the actual cupcake I was paralyzed. I was worried about messing up. I called Rosalie over several times to discuss technique and approach. I went over and over every detail with her. I looked at the white silhouette where my cupcake should be with my paint brush poised to paint, but unable to begin.

After several more minutes, Rosalie moseyed over again, put her hand gently on my shoulder and said, “This is art. There is no right or wrong. It’s supposed to be fun.” That was exactly what I needed. I felt my old perfectionist instincts melting away.  I told myself that I was painting a cupcake, not finding the cure for cancer. Plus, it was paint! I could always cover any mistakes with…yes, more paint.

Applying the frosting

It was at that point that I rolled up my sleeves and got dirty, literally. I started with the base of the cupcake. My model cupcake was chocolate, but because I am allergic to chocolate I took some artistic liberties and made mine vanilla. I mixed a light yellow to bring the cake to life. I then heaped a generous dollop of pink oil paint on top with a pallet knife. Rosalie encouraged us to slather the paint as if it was actual frosting and the technique proved effective…and appetizing.

Rosalie helping a fellow painter

When it came time to add the sprinkles to my cupcake I took a tiny brush and dotted the top of the cupcake using a quick up and down motion, as if my hand was the needle of a sewing machine. This technique proved so effective that a fellow-painter sitting across from me asked how I was creating such perfect sprinkles. I told her and then she used the same technique. Not only was I an o.k. painter, someone else thought I was even better than o.k.! I put the finishing touches on my painting (a dab of brown on top to create a Hershey’s Kiss and a few stray sprinkles littering the table so the scene wouldn’t appear too perfect) with a sense of reckless joy, unafraid that I would “mess up” my little work of art. This was what the event was supposed to be about: non-artists enjoying making art. Once again, when I stopped worrying about failing, I succeeded.

My final product was cute and fun, and perfectly imperfect. Just like me, and that’s pretty darn good!

My model and finished product

As I mentioned, I am involved with the Copley Society of Art, but I was not compensated in any way for this post.

Little Brother, Big Talent

In this blog I chronicle my search for something – an activity, an idea – that I am passionate about.  Recently I have been thinking about what I will do when I find this illusive interest.  Will I devote myself to this newfound passion full time?  I would like to be able to say yes with confidence, but knowing my personality, I am not certain I can.

But if I want a role model for following one’s passion in life I need look no further than my brother, Daniel.  Dan is an incredibly talented artist.  It is his passion.  He is an inspiration in how and why it is critical to follow your heart.  A few years ago he quit his job to devote himself to art full time.  He is currently studying under the great American portrait artist Nelson Shanks at Studio Incamminati in Philadelphia.

A self portrait

Last Friday his first solo exhibition “Deconstructing Forms” opened at the Banana Factory in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.  It is a retrospective of his pen and ink collection.  I admit that I am completely biased, but they are incredible.  From a distance they look as if they could be photographs, but close-up you can see the amazing detail of every tiny pen stroke. The judge in one art competition compared his technique to that of the French Impressionist George Seurat.

One of the artist’s models, our Dad

It was such a pleasure to be able to see his body of work hanging on the walls and to watch others examine the pieces.  Each time a stranger took a few steps back to get a different perspective on a particular piece, my smile grew wider.  I am so proud of my little brother, both for his talent and the bravery it took to devote himself to a “job” that has no guarantee of success no matter how talented you are, and certainly no guarantee of a steady income.  I am not sure I would be able to do the same thing.

“Uyghur Man”
The artist

The highlight of the night for me was to see Dan — surrounded by his work — greeting friends, family and admirers and receiving the accolades that he so richly deserves.  It was such a wonderful evening and it will continue to inspire me and remind me why I set out on this journey of mine.

A very proud sister

“Deconstructing Forms” runs though March 18, 2012.  To see more of Daniel Mahlman’s work please visit his website. You can see more pictures from the opening on my Facebook page.