Nathan and John

October 13, 2014

Nathan is the son of my good friend, Joey. This is two sittings, which allowed me to bring the painting to a more finished state than my usual.


I set up a mirror so he could watch me paint. He was actually a pretty good model.

I also painted what may be my last panhandler painting of 2014–I’ll try and get out this week but it’s getting cold. I am actually very happy with this painting.


This is John. He volunteered to pose after I was turned down by his buddy–my second rejection of the day. John  sipped discreetly from a beer can otherwise hidden behind a trash can, alternated with a clear liquid drunk from a soda bottle in his other hand. He said the cops didn’t bother him; he was too good at hiding his liquor.

John was mostly mumbling to himself, but also enthusiastically appreciating the passing examples of female pulchritude. I said, “I used to work in a grocery store and when a pretty girl walked in we had a code over the intercom: Check out the ice. ‘Check out the ice in aisle three!’ You’re checking out the ice.” “I’ll have some ice,” he answered, “and some Pepsi too.”

A Few Panhandler Updates

September 27, 2014

No new paintings to show, but an update on some issues that have concerned me. As I mentioned in an earlier post, one of the panhandlers told me that a dozen homeless had died in 2014. I found that shocking; on top of that I could find no evidence on line about anything: no statistics, no listing or summary of homeless deaths in Cambridge. The other day I spoke to Ken and Frenchie, whom I are more reliable, and they thought the number was closer to half a dozen. One recent death was the murder –murder, actually–of Bob Shea, or he was known,”Jumping” Bob Shea. I asked Bob to pose for me once and he said no. Anyway, I didn’t really know him but it seems he had quite the reputation, living on the streets of Cambridge since 1985. Here are two well-written encomia for Bob:

I also spoke with Justin and Lauren (see April 27th post) yesterday.. They proudly told me they were married, two weeks ago Sunday. Justin filled me in on what they’d been up to. For a while they had been making and trying to sell jewelry, but they’d lost money on the deal and were back to standard cardboard sign panhandling. Both waxed rather indignant on the vagaries of the market, with Justin particularly offended by Etsy’s betrayal of its trust to sell only handmade goods, and then revealed his plan to create a web site to compete with Etsy. I changed the subject and said, “It’s going to be cold soon, I hope you guys are getting a line on some housing.” Justin told me that once Lauren got her Section 8 paperwork, their married status would make finding a place easy. Lauren assured me her sleeping bag was rated to 20 below. I said, “Yeah, you should really start looking for  place to stay.” Justin has spent the winter on the streets before but this will be the first time for Lauren.

Here’s the portrait from earlier this year.

Justin and Lauren (The Lovebords)

Here are two recent paintings. I was able to finish the portrait commission of the Norris children a few weeks ago, after three sittings. Here it is:

Norris Children - Final

Dylan, the youngest, was the last to pose. He actually grew a few inches between the start of the painting in early summer and completion in early September.

I also painted another panhandler painting. This is John, or as he prefer to be known, Mars.


Mars took the name Mars because he was, he told me, fascinated by the planet Mars. Mars has a distinct southern accent. He told me he and his brother flipped a coin when it came time to make a decision about where to go after leaving Kentucky, and the decision was Boston. His brother is gone, but Mars loves it here and has spent several years in the Harvard Square homeless community. He left an ex-wife and a daughter down South. Mars had originally gotten work as a tattoo artist, but was told his work was too old-fashioned and not up to Massachusetts standards, and so he ended up on the street.

Gary and Whitney have been hanging out outside my office. They still haven’t found a place, although they seemed to have a few leads. Gary almost gleefully told me about another Harvard Square panhandler who died, a young women I haven’t met who worked mornings at JP Licks. That brings the total of premature deaths I’m aware of to three, although Gary claims there have been at least a dozen. I haven’t been able to find any confirmation of this or statistics on homeless death rates in the Square. It’s been a tough year.


2014 Painting Trip to Acadia

September 6, 2014

August 30, 2014

As has been my wont the past few years, I took the week after Labor Day for my annual painting trip. This year I decided to revisit Acadia National Park; I was last there 15 years ago, when I brought my nephew David along. This year as a bonus, my wife took the kids (and a college friend) to her sister’s summer place in Port Clyde, so I spent two days with my family before they headed south and I headed north. We rented a car Friday evening. Saturday morning, Joanne headed into Boston to pick up Sara, Emalie, and her friend Kate. I hit the road for Maine a little before 8.

I stopped in Wiscasset for an early lunch, then started scanning for the view on Rte 1 I knew I wanted to paint. It even had a parking space in front of it. I had certainly passed it enough times over the years with the thought, “I really have to come back and paint this” and I was determined to do the painting this time. Found it, passed it, drove back and found the view I kept seeing was, alas, not visible from the road side. Headed into Pot Clyde, determined that no one else had arrived yet, and drove down to Drift Inn Beach to paint:

Drift Inn

“View from Drift Inn Beach”

August 31, 2014

Joanne thought a painting of the sheep at the farm stand across the street would make a good Christmas present for her sister. I set up and started to paint, at which point the sheep all wandered away. I determinedly went on painting and the sheep came back in dribs and drabs, enabling me to finish the painting. The title is, I believe, self-explanatory.

BWV 208

“BWV 208″

“Turkey Cove” was another suggestion of Joanne’s. While painting it I had one of the few animal interactions of this trip: a woodchuck ran by almost at my feet. Here is why I am not a successful artist. A guy pulled up in a car and asked, “Do you sell them?”


“That’s my house down there.”

“The teeny-tiny one?”

[In a hurt tone] “I have another house across the road. That’s just my fishing spot.”

“Oh, in that case, fifty bucks off.”

He left.

Turkey Cove, St. George

“Turkey Cove, St. George”

Impressive thunderstorms that night, with torrential rain.

September 1, 2014

The next day I left for Acadia. Very foggy day. I drove straight into Acadia, bought a pass, and parked at Sand Beach to paint.

Sand Beach

“Sand Beach”

While I was painting I chatted with a woman who turned out to be from Stamford, CT. In fact, she graduated from Stamford High School the year before I did. This was just the first Stamford coincidence of the trip.

A brother and sister wanted to paint too, so I let them add a few dabs of green to the unpainted portion of the painting. Ran into the sister and her mother in the parking lot. The little girl was very indignant that I’d painted over her contribution.

Checked into the camp. My site wasn’t exactly “remote”–it was ten feet from a country road. Oh well. Squirrels very fresh.

September 2, 2014

Another very foggy day. I painted at Bubble Pond and actually had to wait a half an hour for the fog, which had receded as I painted, then come back with a vengeance, to roll out again.Here I will voice my two complaints about Acadia. First, the utter banality of the place names is a little sad: Bubble Pond, Jordan Pond, Sand Beach, Cadillac Mountain. It’s as though the sites were named by the local Chamber of Commerce. Secondly, and I realize this is sacrilege, they need to trim back the trees at some of the more iconic views in the Park. The views are obstructed on some of the scenes I recall painting easily, like the view of French Cove. Sorry, I know it won’t happen, but just sayin’…

Bubble Pond

“Bubble Pond in the Fog”

Went into Bar Harbor for lunch and then back into the Park for a second painting. Thunder Hole is the most pimped out spot in Acadia, a stepped, ramped and handrailed Natural Wonder™ worthy of Franconia Notch, It was still very foggy, even foggier than before, so I carried my easel onto the rocks and carefully framed my painting to look past Thunder Hole onto the rocks beyond, without even a hint of the tourist trap in front of me.

Thunder Hole in the Fog

“Thunder Hole in the Fog”

Back to camp. The radio was predicting heavy rains that night so I set up a tarp over my tent. Here’s a picture or two to show what you can do with a 10’x12′ tarp and an unlimited supply of twine.

tent 1tent 4


It never did rain. Come to think of it, the weather reports were reliably useless.

September 3, 2014

A beautiful sunny day, but very windy. I had scoped out Jordan Pond the day before and went back first thing to paint. I made the mistake of doing a large painting right off the bat–I usually start with a small painting so that I have the energy to paint again in the afternoon. After battling the wind all morning and getting a nice sunburn as well, I was too exhausted to set up and paint in the afternoon. Went back to camp and took it easy.

The Bubbles from Jordan Pond

“The Bubbles from Jordan Pond”

September 4, 2014

These trips all end up having a theme. Last year’s theme was “Getting Lost.” This year’s was “In Search of Breakfast.” I freely admit, I’m only a car camper, and I do like to have a cup of coffee and a nice cholesterol-laden breakfast before I start working. Earlier I had stopped at a diner called “Maine-ly Meat” (yes, I know, a really bad sign and a truly dreadful breakfast) because it was on my way. The next morning I drove past it and had to go eight miles into Bar Harbor before I found a restaurant. Eight miles without so much as a Denny’s or a Dunkin’ Donuts! And it’s not like this was a pristine back country road. There were souvenir shops and lobster roll places (that all opened at noon) a-plenty. Just, no diners.

The next day I headed south in hopes of finding a diner. I went twelve miles before I gave up in despair, turned around and had another (yechh!) meal at Maine-ly Meat (by the way, there are a lot of places up there with “Maine-ly” in the name–Maine-ly Maine Jams n’ Jellies, Maine-ly Music, Maine-ly Maine Gift Shop–it’s the pun that keeps giving). Do you realize what this means? There is a twenty mile stretch of main road in Ellsworth and Bar Harbor where you cannot buy a cup of coffee and a bagel. I passed not one, not two, but three separate places where I could buy hand-made Cupolas and Weathervanes (thankfully none had the word “Maine-ly” in the title), but not a single place for a nosh. It’s an adjunct of Hell, I tell you.

Anyway, I drove a little south to one of the many not-in-the-Park-but-still-incredibly-gorgeous beauty spots I noted in my travels and painted:

Northeast Creek, Mt. Desert Island

“Northeast Creek”

Back to camp for lunch and a nap. I chatted with another Stamford-ite, a science teacher at Westhill High School who had just retired and was full of glee when he saw the school buses drive by. His two complaints were about the elimination of vocational education in Stamford–apparently all students are considered college materials, even when they aren’t–and by the scourge of cell phone which has made the last few years a living hell for him.

I got in one more painting in the Park, again overlooking Sand Beach.

Acadia Coast

“Acadia Coast”

Initially I thought the painting was about the big stone monolith in the foreground, but as I painted I soon realized it was really about the scrawny little pine about halfway down on the left.

I couldn’t face the thought of another tuna and cracker dinner back at camp so I splurged and had a huge dinner at a local restaurant. Bad mistake! When I got back to camp, before I even got out of the car there was a knock at my window and another acquaintance from camp had bought too many lobsters, had to cook them all, and was inviting me over for a fresh Maine lobster. I had to decline–I was that stuffed. That’ll teach me.

Everyone in the camp seemed on the move so I put on my headphones and took a stroll around the camp. Danged if they weren’t setting up for a big dog show on the other side of the camp, complete with barrels, ladders and bridges for the dogs to strut their stuff on. I witnessed an encounter between two owners walking their dogs. Each dog kept scrupulously to their side of the path, no sniffing or barking. “What well-mannered dogs,” I said to one of the owners. She laughed and said, “Exactly!”

I could have spent another week there painting, but alas I had responsibilities awaiting me at home. If/when I go back I probably won’t even bother to go into the Park. There’s enough natural beauty on Mt. Desert Island scattered promiscuously over the countryside to justify a dozen painting trips.

Oh well, back to work.




August 17, 2014

I received a paycheck from a client for a side job I’m working on (here’s a preliminary “cartoon” version of the animation if you’re interested: so I’ve been feeling a little more financially secure and, hence, generous. On Saturday I came into Cambridge and headed over to where Erich and his wife hang out, hoping to make good on my promise to paint the wife; they weren’t there, though. I wandered around a bit looking for a suitable model and handing out cash to the regulars: James, Jim, Michael, Susan. I gave Michael a dollar and he said, “Oh, you must have gotten a residual!” Then I gave Jim a dollar too and Michael shouted, “Don’t give him money! He’s a fraud!” I answered, “So are you.”


I found Ashanti sitting next to the CVS where I’ve painted so many panhandlers in the past. She was more than willing to pose and I started to set up, at which point she said, “Would you mind giving me the ten dollars now?” I said, “I’m sorry, but in the past when I’ve paid people in advance some of them have bailed on me before I finish. You aren’t going to bail on me, are you?” She said, “I’m worried that you’ll bail on me.” I pulled out the ten dollar bill I had on me and said, “Ask anyone, I’m good for it. There’s no way I can sneak away, either, it takes me ten minutes to pack up my stuff.” She said OK, but about five minutes later asked for the money again and I gave it to her after making her promise not to leave early, a promise she more or less kept.

I now make a point of holding off on drawing the portrait until I have a pretty good idea of which way the model habitually looks. After I set up my easel to one side of her Ashanti immediately started to look away from me, a problem I’ve encountered before. So before I started painting I moved my easel so I was standing directly across from her, waited for a typical pose, and started working. As soon as I had the drawing down she immediately started looking in the opposite direction, and ultimately I had to break one of my cardinal rules and ask her to look to her left as I had in  the drawing rather than catching the pose on the fly. That was so successful I asked her to hold her arms still so I could catch that gesture too. Eventually she got up and sat down on the bench next to me, because, she told me, someone else had started panhandling down the way and two of them weren’t allowed to do it at the same time. As promised, she didn’t leave; she just stopped posing and I had to finish up her pants and arms from memory.

The pickings seemed pretty slim for Ashanti. Several people gave her money, but it looked like, at most, a quarter. One guy chatted with her for a while, left and came back from Starbucks  with an iced coffee. Later, when she wanted to leave, she told me she had to go to Starbucks because he’d gotten her order wrong, then asked me for an additional two dollars. I gave her the sole dollar bill I had left in my pocket, and we each went our way.

Some Recent Paintings

August 10, 2014

Here’s a little landscape I saw in Cambridge. This is what I was on my way to paint when I ended up painting Erich.

Cambridge Common, 5 x 3.5

Cambridge Commons

I brought my paints into work on Friday and left early to do a panhandler painting; and once again there was nobody new to paint. This is starting to piss me off. I chatted with Keith, who is not doing well physically, then kept looking unsuccessfully. Eventually I ended up in front of the bank next to my office. There were Gary and Whitney. They practically begged me to paint them so I ended up doing my third do-over portrait of the season.

Gary and Whitney

I’m not really that happy with it. It’s more about a set of circumstances–two people who once again are homeless and now drag all their belongings around with them on a cart and in various bags and backpacks–than it is about two people. I’m unhappy with the portrait but reasonably satisfied with the genre painting.

I guess I should relate their story, which goes like this: they were staying in a room provided by an acquaintance who had lucked into a home by marrying an alien seeking a green card who was willing to pay to marry an American citizen. Once her residency was established she flew back to South America for a visit and it was while she was away that their friend invited them in. There they had provided their friend with necessary medication (I’m not quite sure about this) at their own expense and to the tune of $2,000 when the wife suddenly came home and threw them both out. Needless to say, they are furious about this.

On the plus side, Whitney is in remission from her cancer and looks very healthy. She was trying to pin down a shelter and needed to make a phone call at a certain time, but the battery in her phone was dead. So she needed to go into Panera to plug in her phone, but the manager at Panera was very rude to her and followed her around everywhere, even into the bathroom, when she came into the store. They made a point of buying a cup of iced coffee there each day so they could establish themselves as customers.

While we were painting a personable young Asian woman came along and offered to buy Gary and Whitney food. She soon came back with a meal and sat down with them to eat. She is one of those rare but charming slacker Asians, completely Americanized, casual and aimless; an indication of what the children of today’s obsessive Asian overachievers will be like.  Eventually another panhandler of the “grubby youngster” variety arrived, complimented her, and took her off with an offer to introduce her to the other Pit denizens, with all of whom he was friends. “He’s not friends with them,” Gary said after they left. “She should be careful around him.” However, she came back about an hour later, none the worse for wear. Then a young man stopped and asked them if they needed foam cushions to use as bedding. He also provided blankets. I later saw Susan at the T stop with a new pillow still in its packaging, which I assume came from the same source. I’ll have to find out if this was fairly typical of the largess the good people of Cambridge bestow upon their homeless population.

We were also joined by Joe, who had suffered either a stroke or a head injury–I’m not quite sure as this information was conveyed in a whisper by Gary–and certainly his speech had a characteristic halting quality. He was very interested to pose and so the next day I came back and painted:


Joe was not very forthcoming as a conversationalist. At the same time, he managed to extract from me quite a bit more information about myself than I was able to get from him, which was, as I said, zero.

At one point I pulled out my box of baby wipes, which I use to clean paint off my hands. “Can I have one of those?” he asked and I said of course. He proceeded to wipe his brow and his head and I soon offered him another one. By the end of the painting session he’d used four or five. When I was done I handed him a ten dollar bill and said, “Her’s your fee.” Then I handed him the box of baby wipes and said, “Here’s your tip.”

Carl; Erich

August 4, 2014

I brought my painting stuff to work and this time was able to get out early on Friday and do a painting. Carl was sitting next to a young woman with a “Homeless and Pregnant” sign. She was not interested in sitting for me. Carl, however, was very interested and, like Burton from last week, actively posed for me. He told me he had some acting experience and compared the experience of sitting for a painting to posing for his head shot. A likable young man.


I left my French easel at the office, took the painting and dirty paintbrushes home, then returned the next day with a new canvas. Once again I found very few potential models on a Saturday morning. I decided to head for a spot I’d picked out for a landscape, and ran into Erich where I’d come across Mike earlier this year: standing in traffic at the intersection of Garden Street and Mass Ave. Erich was carrying an extremely verbose sign that I did not get the opportunity to read. After I gave him my spiel he said yes but asked if we could go sit down somewhere and I said of course. Erich’s wife was sitting in the covered bus shelter and was working on her own sign. Erich told me they’d be back on Saturday and I could paint her then (unfortunately, weather and prior commitments kept me from going into town this weekend). The two of us headed into Cambridge Common Park.

Erich was wearing a Marine hat and a Marine tee shirt and told me about his time in the Marines. It sounded more like the Navy–he listed all the ports he’d been in, including all over the Mediterranean and, somehow, Bora Bora. A young man pulling a suitcase behind him joined us on our walk. “I was in the Marines too,” he said. “He was never in the Marines,” Erich whispered to me. “He forgot to take his meds.”

We were now joined by Erich’s son, another panhandler (but the only one out of Erich’s six kids), who talked about how good the pickings were at Alewife and that he was on his way there. He and the Marine with a suitcase left together. As soon as they were gone Erich complained about him borrowing money and never returning it. Now Gary and Whitney walked by (see my August 21, 2012 entry for Whitney–I painted Gary before I started this blog, so I will post his painting at the end of this entry) . Gary is also a Marine. He complained that someone had cheated or stolen $2,000 from them and apparently they have lost their housing again and are back on the streets, As he walked past me, Gary smiled and whispered, “Don’t believe him. Erich claims he’s a Marine but he isn’t.”

The subject of Erich’s sign was presumably the circumstances surrounding the absolutely hideous collection of scars that served him for a right leg. He had been hit by a car, and then, 14 months later, hit again. He was only wearing a sock on his right foot and later that week I saw him with a cane. Apparently some sort of living can be made from this wandering-through-stopped-cars-asking-for-spare-change gambit, but the occupational hazards are, well, hazardous. On the other hand, Erich was obviously using, as his description of various methadone options and side effects made apparent, and later by his nodding off as I was painting. He also told me about his father’s career as a small-time gangster and truck driver.

To a degree it’s hard not to be judgmental about the moral failings of others.I suspect Erich’s and his family’s woes are more the results of self-indulgence than of bad luck. I have an inking the same is true of Gary and Whitney. However, as I’ve said elsewhere, I am a terrible judge of character, so I will refrain from both approval and disapproval. Anyway, here’s Erich:


and here’s Gary:


Gary 2011


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