September 21, 2014
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:
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.
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:
“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.
“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.”
“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.
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 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”
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.
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”
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:
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.
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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShqMXhH1-ds&list=UUr9lZ1yohWyc0PadP-yqo4w) 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.
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
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.
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.”
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:
July 27, 2014
I brought my paint stuff with me to work on a Friday planning to cut out early and get in a painting, but that did not pan out. So I left my stuff there and caught the 9 am train to Boston on Saturday with a spare canvas. The first thing I painted was a little spot I had spotted inside Harvard Yard:
Wigglesworth Hall, Oil on Paper, 5″ x 3″
While I was painting a disconsolate middle-aged black man dragging two suitcases on wheels behind him walked up and down the path several times. At one point he abandoned his luggage for several minutes and disappeared, but he came back. As I was finishing up I asked him what was the matter and he told his tale of woe: his daughter had been invited to an international conference to be held at Harvard University and they had flown in from Burundi the night before. They came here a day early to scope out the place and his daughter had asked a security guard for directions as to the location of the conference. She had followed the security guard away and not come back, and now he was looking for her.
I found a call box for the Harvard police and described the situation for them. After a few minutes a cop appeared and the African gentleman described his plight once more. A call came in; the daughter was found, and was waiting just around the corner. Problem solved, good deed performed, I dropped off my painting equipment at the office, grabbed something to eat, then came back to paint a panhandler portrait.
Once again I had some trouble finding a suitable subject. I spoke to one of the panhandlers doing the walk-through-traffic-and-knock-on-people’s-windows-at-a-traffic-light shtick. He wasn’t interested but told me to be on the lookout for Burton. He was concerned about Burton because he had had a stroke and should not be walking around in traffic.
I found Burton, who was both very happy to pose for me and actually, proactively posed too: kind of a pleasant experience after so many wandering eyes and bad models (I know, I bring it on myself).
Burton’s speech was almost incomprehensible but he liked the painting very much and thanked me profusely. Since I was similarly thanking him for posing, our conversation went like this:
Me: Thanks so much for posing.
Him: Thank you very much!
Me: No, thank you very much.
Him: Thank you very much!
July 24, 2014
I ran into Kitty on the subway headed into Cambridge. She had just arrived from New York and was fully equipped with backpack, sleeping bag, and a monstrously huge dog wearing saddlebags whose name I forget but was, she told me, half Rottweiler and half pit bull. “Am I headed to Harvard Square?” she asked me. Yes, I told he, she was. We got off and she asked “where people my age hang out.” I suggested the Pit by the T stop but she was accosted by Dirt (“Dirk?” I asked; “No, Dirt,” he corrected me) who assured her he would show her a good time. I headed down the street but didn’t see anybody I hadn’t painted already. (Why is that? I see dozens of panhandlers I’d like to paint on weekdays when I have to work. Do they all go home for the weekend? God, I hope so.)
I headed back up Mass Ave and found Kitty and Dirt sitting on the brick pavement next to the T stop. They had been joined by Joshua. I gave my usual spiel but told them I couldn’t afford to give them each ten dollars. That was no problem, they said. I ended up giving each of them $5.
Of the three, Dirt (the one in the middle) seemed the most presentable, with a neatly trimmed beard and college boy haircut. However, he turned out to be the most out of control. His act seemed intended mostly to startle passersby—suddenly singing patches of song in a loud raspy voice while banging his arms violently against his sides. He also told the same joke over and over (“What’s a pirate’s favorite letter?” “R?” “No, because of his love of the C!”) and challenged people to “rap battles” for articles of their clothing. Kitty pulled out her ukelele and gave a mercifully brief non-performance. She asked Joshua to pick her up some gold and silver wire at the art store–there seems to be a lot of homemade jewelry-making and selling on the street these days—which involved a trip to Central Square. When he agreed she pulled out a thick wad of bills and peeled off a few for his use. I thought to myself, “I hope she doesn’t do that too often,” and then I realized what the dog was for. Indeed, many people stopped and wanted to pet him. “Is he friendly?” they would ask and Kitty would answer, “No, he isn’t friendly.” He was, however, very well-behaved.
When I finished the painting Kitty got up to take a look. “Wow, that’s a lot better than I thought it would be,” she said. “I hope you aren’t offended.” “Why should I be offended?” I asked. “That was a compliment.”