I'm on vacation, and I'm having a wonderful time. It's a paradise. Beautiful room, white sand beach, gorgeous view.
And yet, I find myself having a difficult time relaxing entirely. I'm relaxing, but not completely relaxed. I find that I am suffering from a case of the "Shoulds".
Here are a list of my "Shoulds":
- I really need to take advantage of my time here!
- I should make a drawing or painting everyday.
- I should keep posting and staying engaged on social media.
- I should NOT post, and disengage completely.
- I should go I to a deep state of contemplation so I can start developing concepts and imagery for my next body of work.
- I should start collecting words and images for my next body of work.
- I should do paintings of the coastline so I can include coastal scenes in my next body of work.
- Furthermore, I should barely eat anything, so I will still feel okay in my bathing suit.
- I should drink less/more.
- I should swim in the ocean.
- I should go for a hike/sample authentic local cuisine/learn to paddleboard...
Get the idea? So much to ponder and worry about.
I heard a while back that the word "should" can be very toxic. It is a good exercise to replace it with the word "want" and see what happens.
Actually, I have done a number of my "Shoulds", because they seemed like fun at the time.
But what have I done mostly?
Mostly, I have gone on a deep dive into some really nerdy books on archeology.
Yes, archeology is my way to relax.
- I have two magazine subscriptions (World Archeology and The American Institute of Archeology Magazine).
- I am a fan of Patrick Wyman's podcast, Tides of History
- I watch archeology themed shows on TV and YouTube incessantly. (My favorite, which is not exactly about archeology, is Mysteries of the Abandoned on Discovery)
So I'm on a geek-fest, learning about how the Proto-Indo-European language, a theoretical language that became extinct around 2500 BCE, was the root from which most of the languages spoken in the world today evolved from.
What can I say? It's what I want to do.
A bibliography of my vacation:
Three Stones Make a Wall, by Eric H. Cline
The Horse, the Wheel, and Language, by David W. Anthony
Tales of Valhalla, by Martin and Hannah Whittock
Beowulf, translation by Seamus Heaney
The Dig, by John Preston
It came from Out of the Past- from 1947, to be exact. This scene from the famous film noir inspired images in my head that I couldn't shake.
So, in April 2021, I took a video of myself in costume walking down the stairs. Then I created a large drawing from that video. From that I developed a painting... But, like many worthwhile endeavors in life, there were twists, turns, and backtracks along the way.
I love working off of colored, textured grounds. So, in early May, I got off to an interesting start by using purple watercolor and allowing it to drip down the panel.
I sized the image of the drawing in photoshop, printed it out on sheets of paper, and transferred a light image of it onto a panel. Then, using the drawing and the photographs as a reference, I started the painting.
I spent a bunch of time creating a wood grain effect on the stairs, thinking the reddish tone would enhance my purple shadows.
I also "closed up" the space, by making sure all walls, stairs and shadows were touching each other, enclosing the figure in with no way to "escape".
This all happened from early May to late June. I set Exit aside. I worked on other projects, such as The Hanged Man and Watch.
There may have been a beach trip or two as well...
All the while, I kept looking at Exit out of the corner of my eye... June ended... July ran its course...
I kept thinking... this could be better.
It doesn't have the glossy dark depth I had envisioned...
It needs... blue.
Here I am, paintbrush in mouth, glazing a layer of Prussian blue over my painting.
I also repainted the exit sign and made it larger.
I changed her shoes from black to white.
I even painted over the precious wood grain stairs I had worked so hard on.
Then, after all this, I realized the exit sign was no longer needed. In fact, it had become a distraction. Now that I had all my moody blues creating atmosphere, I wanted the woman to be the focus, as if a spotlight were shining on her. So, using a razor blade, I scratched it out.
With a tiny scrap of red paper and a bit of tape, I was able to see where to put my lovely vintage exit sign.
As I write this, the exit sign has been redone for a FORTH time-
Finally, finally, I believe it is done. It started in May, and ran off and on until September.
We live in a world of expediency, instant gratification and digital wizardry. But along the way, there has been a growing appreciation of the slow. For example, slow foods, artisanal cheese, vintage wine, and hand-made crafts are all important social and financial movements.
By sharing the process of my art, I hope to celebrate the slow and deliberate. Just like life, many artistic pursuits take a long and winding road. Part of what makes art, art, is that the artist takes the time to follow that road wherever it leads.
This little book was a staple in my house, as it was in many peoples’ houses. It was a book that was used to gently, or not so gently tease me when I was small.
I was a very poky little puppy.
It was an affectionate and perhaps slightly desperate attempt to get me to look up, to focus, to walk faster, and stop dawdling! The rest of my family seemed to be endlessly charging ahead, onto the next, and the next, and the next activity.Attention Deficit Disorder, Inattentive Type. Much of my middle age has been spent trying to manage my errant mind with new found understanding, and to making up for time lost drifting through my almost rudderless young adulthood.
Frustrating, yes, but ADD is closely associated with having a creative mind. No one really knows why. I think it is because all that wandering brings one to unexpected shores and vistas. I heard it once described this way; if one doesn’t think linearly, (marching forward along a path), then one tends to think laterally, that is, back and forth and side to side.
A curious feature in many folks with ADD is called “hyper-focus”. This is when my normally wandering mind suddenly gets into gear, and I become completely engrossed in one activity for long periods of time. This is what happens when I make art.
I have come to recognize that I am a slow, deliberate artist. Each new attempt takes a long process of conceiving, sketching, drawing, transferring, painting, maybe collaging. When I am “done” with a piece, I will set it aside for weeks, months, and peer at it as it sits in the corner of my studio. I glance at it over the rim of my coffee cup, send it sidelong glances as I work with another piece. Then, often, it hits me. “It needs this…”
I will go back into the painting, and it will transform, like a make-over or a mid-life crisis. It will deepen and mature. Having that time to let it hibernate and incubate will often make a good piece into a great one.
One such slow transformation unspooled during the creation of Exit, one of my latest pieces of art. You can read about the creation of this painting here, in The Saga of Exit.
This past month I had a particularly enlightening trip down memory lane, inspired by the sale of a favorite piece from a previous series.
When in college I did a series of art based on Shakespeare’s Richard III- I was so enamored with Sir Laurence Olivier’s movie I decided to create paintings with the characters in different contexts and times.
When in my 30’s, I created work based on mythology from ancient Greece and pagan Europe.
I love and enjoy observational painting, but I seem compelled to tell a story with my art, to create a narrative. I am driven to explore and share the landscape of my imagination. The sale of Athena Stays the Dawn brought back memories of all the ways I have used art to tell stories. It seems that the act of telling a story is more important than the trappings of time and place and specific characters.
For now, I am entirely caught up in the dark labyrinth of film noir. But who knows what stories my future art will tell?
If you are interested in seeing my work based on The Odyssey, visit this page on my website.
If you want to read posts about it, here are some links to my blogposts about it.
Georgia O'Keeffe is one of those rare artists who is a household name, whose work is instantly recognizable. She is known, of course, for her flower imagery, and her depictions of the American South West landscape. But she also did glorious, imaginative citiscapes.
This piece, Watch, is still in process (though it seems to be close to being done). When I decided to add the lighted windows, I was taking a huge artistic risk and it changed the whole piece. It is The Ritz Tower by Georgia O'Keeffe that has been guiding me through.
Watch is 20x40, and has collaged newspaper, as well as collaged windows.
After doing mostly collage for a few years, I have taken a turn to painting again. Although I love the effect of the collage, painting provides me with agility and fluidity that I have come to miss. When I wish to alter or change a piece, a simple swipe of the brush and it is done.
It is a wonderment to me that during this time of increased awareness of the plight of Asian Americans, and during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month that my latest male figure should arrive in the form of a sexy, bad-ass Asian man.
With this new beauty, I felt inspired to make a painting with a woman playing cards with us, the viewer, and at the same time doling out our fate. A real woman, and a quasi-super-natural element of fate at the same time. The question was, which suit should I make her? Which suit would pack the most amount of symbolic punch?
I solved it by creating an engaging online poll in my social media communities, asking my fans to vote on which suit, hearts or diamonds would best represent my newest femme fatale. The Queen of Hearts got a good showing, The Queen of Diamonds was the undisputed winner.
If you are interested in witnessing the blow-by-blow, non-stop action of what it takes to create an artpiece, you can follow me on social media:
In this short video, you can watch me paint the diamond on this card of Fate!
I am fascinated by playing cards and their symbolism. I recently felt inspired to make a painting with a woman playing cards with us, the viewer, and at the same time doling out our fate. A real woman, and a quasi-super-natural element of fate at the same time.
I started to research the four card suits and any symbolic meanings that might be associated with them. I was especially enjoying The Queen of Spades. In cartomancy she is supposed to represent a woman who is intelligent and strategic. She is also featured in a book by Pushkin and an opera by Tchaikovsky. Sometimes she is called The Black Madonna, Black Maria, or The Black Lady, and is considered a powerful, “unlucky” card. In Hearts and Old Maid, she has the power to end the game. There is a variant of Seven Card Stud Poker where she is featured called “The Bitch”. In Pinochle she and The Jack of Diamonds make a significant hand, boding doom for one’s opponent. I thought she would be the perfect candidate for this femme fatale, this goddess of chaos I was dreaming up. I was even considering making a companion piece called The Jack of Diamonds.
Way back in 1998 I saw the movie Bulworth. In it there is a scene where the main character, played by Warren Beatty, says to an audience full of African Americans “Let’s call a spade a spade” and the crowd erupted with indignation. Ever since then I have passively wondered about that and I thought now was the time to look up the phrase.
It turns out it has evolved into a racial slur.
The evolution of the phrase is fascinating. It used to mean “call it like it is”. It comes from an ancient Greek saying "to call a fig a fig and a trough a trough." Which is in itself a sexual double entendre- get it? Figs? Troughs? (Never mind. It seems like everything back then was a sexual double entendre.)
So, it was a simple matter of rethinking my metaphors. Away from the stormy waters of the suit of spades and toward the equally intriguing subjects of Love and Money. Love with The Queen of Hearts, and money with the heartless Queen of Diamonds. In fact, I turned it to my advantage by creating an engaging online poll in my social media communities, asking my fans to vote on which suit, hearts or diamonds would best represent my newest femme fatale. The Queen of Hearts got a good showing, The Queen of Diamonds was the undisputed winner.
But those of you who have followed my art for a while know that it wasn’t always that way.
For many years I did work in a very different style, based on vintage snapshots of ordinary people. This body of work evokes feelings of wistful nostalgia.
They are boldly drawn with thin layers of paint over visible wood grain. It was a popular and satisfying method that worked for me for years before I felt the need to evolve and change.
The website is organized into three pages under Portfolio. Each image on each page has a clear indication of where to inquire about the piece, and if you feel so moved, how to buy it.
visit www.lesliepetersonsapp.com to see all my work, current and otherwise!
Another way to explore this earlier style is to visit previous blogposts, especially the years 2013 and before. Look at the Archive section on the right side of this page to investigate.
Through the month of August, I will be the featured artist at RiverSea Gallery in beautiful Astoria, OR.
Additionally, a portion of the opening was filmed, and you can watch the video embedded below. In it you can see the art up on the wall, and listen to myself and other people talk about the work.
Here are the hotsheets with the sordid details, the true confessions, and the inside info on my artistic process. Learn how it all happens right here!