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Painting cows: Going afield for inspiration, and preparing for an exhibition

The Nashville area has become a special place for me. Two of my sisters and my adorable nephew and niece are there, so it’s become a go-to spots for family travel. And just outside Nashville, I have discovered the wondrous Holly Belle on Instagram. Even if you didn’t grow up with a dad that brought home a baby cow in the back of the station wagon (true story!), Holly’s “puppy cow” jumping around in the dining room of her house is sure to make you happy. Her mini cows have inspired my paintings and drawings in the recent past, and I have three paintings of cows started, shown above in various states of completion.

Please visit my Into the Country series to see more paintings of animals.

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Painting of a Young Man, a Portrait Miniature

Conor is the son of two artists. I’ve known his father, sculptor Tom Gormally for years. And although we only recently met, I have known of his mother as one of Seattle’s most talented portrait artists.

From the first look, I saw Conor as having a classic look. I immediately thought of one of my favorite portrait painters, Gerald Leslie Brockhurst. Brockhurst was born in the late 1800’s and painted portraits of the English gentry and Hollywood stars in the 1930’s. So I dressed Conor up a bit and added a backdrop of Mount Rainier, painted in Brockhurt’s muted style.

As Malayka and Tom write about Conor, it feels like looking into my future; and when Malayka describes her conversation with Faye Jones, I remember having the same conversation with my dear friend Andi. More and more I feel bonds of common experience, even with people I have yet to meet, like Faye Jones.

Parenthood can strain lives and challenge friendships, not to mention art making, but it is wonderful how connections are built and strengthened too. So once again I want to thank everyone who has agreed to participate in this project! And without further ado, the Gormally family:

Malayka, Tom and Connor

From Makayla:

Our son Conor turned twenty today, and we enjoyed visiting with him at his college dorm via Facetime. When I first became pregnant, I didn’t know how I would handle being an artist and a mother. Now we have a wonderful grown son, and I’m also grateful for the ways in which being a parent has affected my art practice.

I remember being pregnant and walking on Alki beach on a cloudy day with artist Faye Jones, whom I had asked to talk with me about how she combined parenting and being an artist. She had raised four children while building a successful career, and explained to me that she had painted small works at home when her children were very young, and from then-on worked a full day, every day, at a studio down on First Avenue. I remember her saying, “I just did it.”

Before becoming pregnant, I painted abstract work. I was so fascinated with my body’s changes that I started painting myself in the mirror and then painted Conor as a baby.  Over the next couple of years, I developed a commission portrait painting business which I’ve maintained to this day. In the last several years, as Conor has become more independent, I’ve been able to focus on my non-commission paintings and expand my career.

I’ve always painted at home which allowed me to be there for Conor in the afternoons, on sick days, and for school events – for which I’m grateful. It also means that Conor has been involved in every part of the art-making process. He regularly gave me feedback on portrait paintings in-progress. Conor is now my go-to business advisor as he has a good head for pricing, negotiation, etc. As a skilled writer, Conor has played a crucial role in that he serves as our editor and composition aid for every grant application, artist statement, and bio that his dad and I write. We consider Conor to be a crucial part of the family art business.

Makayla, Tom, Connor, Sean and Delvin

From Tom:

I’m the father of three boys; Conor is my youngest son. It was a surprise for me to become a father again so late in life; I love him…he is a gift. It’s been amazing to watch Conor develop as a human being and as a student; he is a wonderful young man and it makes my life richer to journey along with him. I’ve appreciated Conor’s help with writing art applications and creating work in the studio. We enjoy cooking together, watching films, and especially talking sports together and with Conor’s half-brothers Sean and Devlin.

Malayka Gormally artwork

We Are All Immigrants, oil paint on Arches oil paper, 22″ x 30″

Malayka Gormally

Malayka Gormally’s paintings are in over one hundred collections nationwide, including the collections of Safeco Insurance, the City of Kent, and the City of Seattle Portable Works Collection. Her portrait clients have included individuals who have been board members at the Seattle Art Museum, the Henry Gallery, and the Palm Springs Art Museum. She currently has work in 10x10x10xTieton 8th International Small Works Exhibition, and she is preparing for an upcoming two-person exhibition at Spaceworks Gallery in Tacoma. She completed the Artist Trust EDGE Professional Development Program in 2015 and was awarded a 2017 Art Projects Grant by 4Culture to create portraits of immigrant and refugee women in King County. Her website is MalaykaGormally.com.

Tom Gormally sculpture

“Rough Road to the Apocalypse”, installation view;
wood, resin, paint, favric, lights, electronic motors, 48″ x 168″ x 36″

Tom Gormally

Tom Gormally is known for his whimsical and thought-provoking sculptures that incorporate wood craftsmanship with found objects, diverse materials, and LED lighting. He has exhibited nationally and internationally for 40 years, including the Katonah Museum (NY), Des Moines Art Museum (IA), Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art (KS), among others. He created site-specific sculptures in Seattle and Belfast, Northern Ireland, for the Horsehead International Outdoor Sculpture Exhibitions.Tom has also exhibited large-scale sculptures at the Bellwether International Sculpture Exhibitions, Bellevue, WA. Press coverage includes reviews in Sculpture Magazine and The New Art Examiner as well as BBC TV and radio interviews. Tom is a past-recipient of an NEA award for sculpture and was awarded a 2015 Artist Trust Fellowship. His work can be seen at TomGormallySculpture.com.

Learn more about other paintings in the Monthly Miniature, Children of Artists series

Rabbits in retrospect, looking back from the final Monthly Miniature painting

Rabbit Painting

A Forest Still Life, after Matthias Withoos, March, 2016, oil on aluminum, 4.25″ x 3.25″

With the first year of Monthly Miniatures finished, I have more to paint than when I started

I often begin a series of paintings with a plan in mind, so although painting itself an act of exploration, I know roughly where I am going, so to speak. My Monthly Miniatures turned that process on its head, since when I began, I did not have a plan so much as a commitment: to make one miniature painting each month, for a year. It was only in the second month that I even decided to focus on rabbits.

Having so much freedom was hard at first, but trellised by limited structure, ideas continued to emerge and branch as I worked through the series. I began to realize that I could push my ideas further by taking my rabbits out of the studio and into new and imagined places, which in turn can creative narrative, or even pay homage to an artist or tradition I admire.

Now at the end of Monthly Miniatures: Rabbits, I have a few themes I am eager to develop in future work, and it feels great. Although the work makes no strong statement as a series, it became surprisingly meaningful for me, all by approaching the work more as a notebook or conversation than as an essay or a speech.

Charlie stands in for a 17th-century mushroom

Moon Rabbit, miniature oil painting of white rabbit by Rebecca Luncan

Moon Rabbit, oil on aluminum

Following from the painting, Moon Rabbit, I’ve placed Charlie in a romantic setting from a work of art I enjoy (“A forest floor still life with a frog and mushroom, mountains beyond”). As you can see, there is no mushroom but a rabbit instead.

The last of my first Monthly Miniature series pays homage to the 17th Century Dutch painter Matthias Withoos. I love Withoos for his naturalistic paintings, full of botanical specimens and insects and animals of all sorts. Withoos trained all seven of his children how to paint – even his daughters. It was expensive to give your children an education in the arts in the 1600’s and if you were lucky enough to be a woman trained in the field, you often worked in your fathers or husbands studio and your work was attributed to them. One of Matthias’s daughters Alida, however, is one of the rare women artist who had success creating artwork under her own name. Part of her success was likely from the fact that one of her biggest patrons, Agnes Block, was also a woman.

What’s next for Rabbits and Monthly Miniatures?

My studio walls are still covered in rabbity mockups and drawings. Although my commission schedule will keep me busy, do expect to see more and larger rabbit paintings and drawings the next year or two. As to the Monthly Miniatures, next week I will announce the new theme that will encompass the next 9 months and finish out 2016. Check back for details!

New Monthly Miniature Series, Into the Country

New Model!, Photo by Evan Grim

An eager model (we’ll have our people call your people, Martin)

Next up for the Monthly Miniature 

I have fond memories of the animals my Father kept during my childhood, from bees to pigs to chickens (and yes, rabbits). So when I first met my mother-in-law Margot, I was endeared by her own small farm. Having animals “in the family” now bridges my adult life with my childhood.

This second Monthly Miniature series, called Into the Country, will feature subjects from Margot’s menagerie. Each month will feature a different kind of animal, painted in the style of the classical Dutch portrait, with a simple, dark background to emphasize the subject. Even without picturing their environs or activities, I think you will find these creatures to be very expressive all on their own.

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Moon Rabbit, A Miniature Oil Painting and My Journey from the Studio to a Land of Myths

The Myth of the Moon Rabbit

As I paint the rabbits in this series of Miniatures, I am also researching their historical role in artwork and mythology. I am especially captivated with the many stories that connect the rabbit with the moon. This month, I am paying homage to this cross-cultural body of mythology.

Busy Bunny, An Example of Virtue and Hard Work Across the Globe

Rabbits do like to keep occupied. Mine busy themselves remodeling their cardboard condos. But cultures around the world have had different ideas about what the rabbit in the moon might be up to.

Asia

A Japanese story written during the late Heian period (794-1185) has him pounding mochi for rice cakes (you can find the story in the anthology Konjaku Monogatarishū). In a Chinese story, he is mixing the elixir of life for the moon goddess Chang’e.

The root of those and other Asian myths is the Buddhist story from Jataka tales (Tale 316),
circa 4th century BCE. The tale opens with the deity Brahmā (Hindu god of creation), coming to the Earth in disguise as an old man. When he begs for food, four animals offer to help: a monkey, an otter, a jackal and a rabbit. The monkey brings fruits, the otter fish, the jackal steals a lizard and a milk-curd for him, but the rabbit only has grass to offer. Knowing that the old man can’t eat the grass, he instead offers himself and jumps into the old man’s fire. The deity then reveals himself and quenches the fire before the rabbit is burnt. He is so touched by the virtue and self-sacrifice of the rabbit that he carries him to the heavens, leaving his likeness upon the moon to remind us of his noble example.

South America

From the opposite side of the globe, a similar Aztec myth features the god Quetzalcoatl, who makes a journey on the earth as a man and finds himself unable to find food or water after walking a long way. Just when he thinks death is certain, a nearby rabbit offers herself as food to save his life. Moved by the rabbit’s offer, Quetzalcoatl elevates her to the moon, then lowers her back down. Her shadow remains on the moon for us to remember how a little rabbit touched the heart of a god.

Adventure and Fertility

And other myths connect the rabbit with the moon as well. Native American (Cree) myth describes the rabbit as an adventurer that visits the moon with help of a friendly crane. In Chinese folklore, the rabbit is so prolific that they can conceive with just the touch of moonlight.

My Muse, the White Rabbit

Rather than feature my rabbit in her ‘natural environment’ (i.e. the painting studio), this month Eleanor dashes into a romantic, otherworldly nighttime scene inspired by German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich. I am studying his work for a series of portraits, and his dramatic cliffs made a home first in my imagination, and now in this latest miniature.

My Ellie has been fixed so she won’t be doing any reproducing, moonlight or not. I also have my doubts that she’d impress the gods with shows of selfless generosity. Stealing her brothers treats is one of her favorite pastimes. In this painting, though, she is my Moon Rabbit, running wild and free. Who knows how far she can go!

Though the original painting is sold, you can still get greeting cards of all of the rabbit Monthly Miniatures in the series in my Store.

Visit Rebecca in the Studio!

Seattle independent filmmaker Aaron Bourget has edited a video from a recent visit to the painting studio.

It’s difficult to be in front of a camera (especially when 6 months pregnant!) and Aaron really helped make me feel more comfortable. I hope you enjoy this glimpse into what’s hanging in the studio, and what I’m working on!

Thank you Aaron!

An Unexpected Litter of Rabbits: The Story of Charlie and Ellie

Mother Rabbit

Mother Rabbit

The two rabbits that continue to inspire my paintings came into our family unexpectedly. But that never could have happened without the hard work of one dedicated woman and the generosity of two local organizations.

As we enter the holiday season and I finish up my ninth Monthly Miniature, I want to tell the story of how my models and their litter mates came into the world and found homes. Because without the dedication of some compassionate souls, Charlie and Ellie might not be with us today.

Charlie and Ellie came to us through my mother-in-law. She is an amazing woman. She has worked with animals for years, nursing and rescuing furred and feathered fauna of all sorts. From sleeping in the barn for days on end to be on hand for birthing lambs, to rehabilitating opossums in her bathtub, she does whatever it takes to help an animal in need.

If you went looking for Margot just before sunrise about two years ago, you would find her feeding her herds of goats and sheep, three horses, several cats and dogs, and her little black and white Dutch bunny Zorro. Rabbits are very social and Zorro lived alone, so when Margot’s friend Stacey discovered a large white rabbit hiding out in her backyard, Margot jumped at the chance to give him a companion. They figured the white rabbit was a pet that had been let go. Rabbits can be harder to keep than people expect, so they often get “released into the wild,” but sadly most don’t make it long.

It took Stacey two weeks to catch the rabbit, but when she did Margot drove over right away to pick it up. She set the newcomer’s cage beside Zorro’s for them to meet, and then went to the feed store to buy supplies. When she came home thirty minutes later, she noticed the new cage was carpeted with quite a lot of fur. Upon closer inspection, she found she had not rescued just any rabbit, but a mother rabbit! Nine blind, pink kittens (as baby bunnies are called) lay sleeping in a little furry nest. If you recall the number of animals already on her small farm, you may guess that she loves when babies are born! Taking in one bunny is however, very different from taking in ten bunnies!

Things turned complicated as the bunnies began to grow.

Baby bunny rabbit, Eleanore

Baby Eleanore

The babies would eventually need homes, and as the tiny newborns grew and their naked bodies got covered in fur, one of the bunnies stayed smooth and naked, she was completely hairless! Despite jokes about knitting tiny

bunny sweaters, we were worried. Such hairless bunnies often don’t survive. Three of the other little kittens didn’t make it to this stage, and Margot worked hard to keep all the surviving six healthy.

As their eyes finally started to open, Margot noticed that one kitten preferred to keep one eye closed. The little brown bunny’s eyelid was slightly inverted, making her eyelashes poke into her eye. It’s an extremely painful condition and will result in blindness if untreated. There is a surgery to fix it, but it’s quite expensive. A Seattle-area organization, Special Bunny came to the rescue. Not only did they raise the money for the entropion eye surgery and saved the little brown rabbit’s eyesight, they kept her and also took in two more white bunny siblings and found them all happy homes.

Margot decided to keep the hairless bunny (called Bunsy Bigglesworth) even if it meant taking up knitting tiny sweaters. But after a few more weeks, Bunsy miraculously sprouted a coat of soft fuzzy fur! And the fuzz soon thickened into a full coat of white fur, only extra soft.

baby bunny rabbit

Baby Charlemagne

The last two of the litter are of course my Charlemagne and Eleanor. I had rabbits when I was a kid and I had been wanting house rabbits for years. Two years later, my rabbits live a very spoiled life. They have the run of the house, pose for paintings, and occasionally venture into the garden to play.

Zorro recently passed on, but his remaining years were much happier with his two pretty companions, Miss Tribble and her uncommonly soft daughter Bunsy Bigglesworth. They share a stall with an old Angora goat Satin, where they dig warrens in their hay bedding. They are very friendly, and come out for treats and visits whenever Margot goes out. I’m not sure where the other three are but I hope they are just as happy and loved as their siblings.

Help Thank and Support Seattle Animal Shelter and Rabbit Haven

We owe a great deal of gratitude to Special Bunny for funding the expensive surgery to save one rabbit’s eye, and finding homes for three rabbits, and to the Seattle Animal Shelter who provided discounted spay and neuter services for Charlie and Ellie, as they do for thousands of animals each year.

To show our gratitude, half the proceeds of next month’s Monthly Miniature will be donated to the two organizations. The ninth Monthly Miniature is a seasonally-themed portrait of Charlie in the snow, and it will be sold by auction. Bidding will open on December 7th and will close at 5:00 PM Pacific time Sunday, December 13th. Please consider bidding generously, not only to support me as an artist, but also to help support these wonderful organizations. Check back next week for auction details, and follow me on Facebook, where the auction will take place!

specialbunny.org            

 

Phthalo: the Forbidden Blue (July Monthly Miniature)

Rabbit Painting Miniature Rebecca Luncan

My fourth Monthly Miniature is featured with a phthalo blue background, a color long excluded from my palette.

How embarrassing that I was afraid of a tube of paint. I like to think of myself as not really afraid of anything, but I gave my last tube of phthalo blue away many years ago because I was afraid it would invade my paintings.

Phthalo blue is a relatively new pigment, accidentally discovered and rediscovered in the lab before its potential was finally recognized by the company Scottish Dyes in the early 1900’s. It was introduced as an artist pigment in the mid 1930’s and has been highly valued ever since for it’s resistance to fading, intense color, and high tinting strength.

That high tinting strength is the source of my fears. You have to understand how invasive phthalo blue is: during the course of a painting, hues naturally blend and migrate. While most pigments can be blended into entirely new colors, either dominating and being dominated by other hues, phthalo blue tints so powerfully that it is extremely difficult to blend away in that manner. If it’s on the pallet, I can see it in the painting everywhere! Typically as a figurative painter, creating warm skin tones helps give the person a more vibrant, lively feel, so my general rule has been to only use Cobalt Blue (which has a weak tinting strength) so that the warm tones are easy to pull forward with a greater sense of control. Whereas a tiny bit of phthalo blue on the pallet has a way of invading everything and can quickly force you to scrape your entire palette clean and start again, thus the expulsion of the color from my studio.

Two paintings changed my perspective, and now I can’t imagine working without it.

I spend a great deal of time at the Seattle Art Museum, where I help create mounts that stabilize objects on display and mitigate earthquake risk. And though I’m mostly working with sculptural pieces, I love spending time with the paintings. March of 2014 brought “France: Inside and Out“, an ongoing show in the fourth floor galleries (co-curated by Chiyo Ishikawa and Julie Emerson), and though the portrait below was painted before the advent of phthalo blue, it started me questioning my fear of a dominating cool pigment in a portrait. The blue is everywhere in this painting: the frame, the hair, and the skin, not to mention the blue dress and background. But at the same time, it’s neither monochromatic nor muddy. This painting planted the thought that maybe it’s okay to let go of some control and let the paint surprise me.

Berthe Morisot, Lucie Léon at the Piano, oil on canvas, 1892 Collection of the Seattle Art Museum

Berthe Morisot, Lucie Léon at the Piano, oil on canvas, 1892 Collection of the Seattle Art Museum

That planted thought found unexpectedly fertile ground this February, when my partner Evan and I showed up at his sister Molly’s small farm in Arlington, WA just before dusk. I wanted to begin a series that actively connected the figure and landscape, and we had come to gather images. The winter fog rolled into the valley, across the fields, and all around the trees, barns, and all of us. The sun had begun to set, turning the foggy hills a deep and vibrant blue, and mysterious lights haunted in the distance. As a subject, Molly is as dramatic as the background that evening, and as we finished, I couldn’t wait to begin the new series.

But as I began to paint, I tried blue after blue but none of them worked. Nothing came close to the shockingly blue sky we had witnessed. I finally conceded that I needed phthalo blue, and I bought my first tube of it in over 10 years. It delivered where other blues had fallen short, and although I only used it in the background in this painting, it helped me shake off some of my longtime inhibitions. In my fourth Monthly Miniature, I also used phthalo blue, and if you look closely, I have used it much more freely, adding it to the floor and the figure. Adding it in the highlights in Charlie’s soft belly fur was truly freeing and a moment of joy. Instead of fearing the phthalo invasion, I invited it in and listened to what it had to say. I’m pleased to say it had some nice ideas, and we’ll be working together again soon.

Portrait oil painting Rebecca Luncan

Vigil, Oil on Aluminum panel, 15″ x 15″, 2015

Father’s Day

Portrait of father Rebecca Luncan

My father gave me a foundation, not only in art, but in all I hold dear.

An extremely social person and an engineer by trade, my father was my earliest influence as an artist, gardener, and animal lover (we had bunnies, dogs, and cats, a pig, goats, chickens, horses, pigeons, and probably more that I’m forgetting). Dad took art classes throughout college and always kept up drawing when he could. When I was little, I loved studying his drawing exercise books and sketchbooks. I remember one book in particular that had printed at the bottom of every page, “you learn to draw by drawing,” and that mantra has always stayed with me.

By the time I went to college, my dad’s Multiple Sclerosis had progressed pretty far, but I know he would have supported me in my decision to be an artist. Above is a paining I did of him while in art school, when my style of painting was much looser (I’ve been painting on metal since my junior year). My passion for making things, and for nature bonds me to my father and keeps the sharp and lively man from my childhood strong in my mind and heart.

I love him dearly and I’m thankful to everyone back home that helps take care of him. Especially my sister, Theresa, who diligently and lovingly visits several times a week and whose FaceTime calls from the nursing home make him seen not so far away.  My aunt Carla recently found and framed the certificate below for him from when he was the Art Club President in high school.

DadDocument