Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A completely new undertaking

I now understand completely how my models feel when they stand in front of me nude, waiting for me to photograph them, wondering if I'm judging them (I'm not), wondering how they'll look, how they'll feel, etc.

No, I didn't pose for anyone.  I'm not sure that would have been as hard for me as what I did was.

So now you're probably wondering what this very difficult thing was that I took on.

It's something I've never been able to do.  Whenever I tried, I failed.  Miserably.  I felt ridiculous, inadequate, stupid, out of shape, absurd.

Normally when I take on doing something new, it's usually something I feel I'll be able to do reasonably well.  But not this.  I am clear that my chances of being good at it (for now, at least) are zero.  And I might make a fool out of myself.  And I might not be able to become good at it.  I can probably improve, but I don't think I'll ever become anywhere close to good at it.

So I felt exceedingly vulnerable each time I thought about doing this the past couple of weeks since I planned to begin.  Butterflies in my stomach and all.

I told a lot of people I was planning to do it.  Many didn't quite understand why it was such a big deal, but they were very nice about wishing me well with it.  Even if they smiled bemusedly at my anxiety.

This morning I woke up at 5:50 (hours before my usual wake up time), crawled into my sweat pants and a T-shirt and an athletic bra and a jacket and a fleece and short socks and tennis shoes, brushed my teeth, then made my way to the car (after cleaning off the kitchen table and feeding the cats and thinking about gessoing a canvas - all by way of procrastinating) to meet my friend Lynn at Starbucks.  No, this wasn't about deciding to start drinking coffee for the first time ever.  (Though that might bring up a lot of feelings also, I don't think they'd be quite the same feelings.)  She wasn't there yet so I sat in the car and listened to NPR until I saw her drive up in her perky red car.  I got out of the car with some trepidation and knocked on her window, startling the heck out of her - sorry!  She smiled broadly at me and jumped out of the car, ready and raring to go.

She asked what I was wearing and told me to take off my fleece - I wouldn't need it. I  could decide about my hat.  I decided to keep it on since I knitted it and it makes me feel good.  OK.  No more procrastinating.  She told me we'd take off over the Huguenot Bridge then go around the curve to Riverside Drive and make our way to Pony Pasture.  I told her I am a complete novice and am not sure how far I can make it.  She reassured me that would be fine.  We'd go 15 minutes out, 15 back.

And so we began.


For the first time in my life.  Intentionally trying to move my body at a more rapid pace than walking for a longer distance than it takes to get from the car to the grocery store in the rain.

I made it about 300, maybe 400 yards before I had to slow down and walk.  I became winded almost immediately.  I have never had much endurance and, having not exercised much at all this last year, I have less than usual.  Lynn was wonderful.  She slowed down and walked until I told her I was ready to go again - about 3-400 yards.  She told me I was doing great.

The bonus was that at 6:35 AM in Richmond at this time of year, the sun is just starting to come up over the river and it's beautiful.  The sky had slender orange and pink streaks in it which were beginning to reflect in the rapidly rushing water of the overfull James River.

We continued across the bridge at a stop and go pace.  My inner critic was actively telling me that Lynn must be rolling her eyes at me and wondering what she had gotten herself in to.  I was berating myself for not being in better shape, for not having more endurance, for getting out of breath.  And I was reminding myself to be gentle and to give myself a break.  I was there.  I was trying.  I was there.

And so we made it down the hill and along Riverside Drive a ways, about 1.2 miles from where we started.  That was 15 minutes.  That's good for my first day.  Then we turned around.  And jogged then walked then jogged then walked some more.  Lynn told me I made it further than she thought I might in one stretch.  My legs decided they were tired too at the start of the bridge going back.  I set a goal to make it to the next sign post jogging.  She told me I was looking good.  To slow down, to set a pace I was comfortable with, not to try to go fast.  I walked a bit.  Then decided to make it across the actual river.  But stopped to look because now the sun was really rising and was gorgeous.  To the left the full moon was setting over the trees, and to the right, the sky was streaked with orange and purple and blue and golden light, reflecting magnificently on the water.  The trees were sparkling and quivering with new life of fresh Spring leaves.  I jogged to the next sign post.  Then walked.  My face by this time was crimson from exertion (I am fair-skinned and get flushed very quickly when I exert myself - what an embarrassment that was in my youth!).  Then jogged off the bridge.  Then walked. Thought about the people in the 100's of cars driving by seeing me, figuring at least one good thing came from jogging in front of so many people - if I expired from exhaustion, someone would see it and stop to take me to the hospital.

What was amazing was that all along the way, Lynn would tell me I was doing great.  She actually offered me encouragement!  At one point I told her she reminded me of myself when I tutor and have a student who can't figure out what 3x3 is.  I swallow, gulp, wonder how I can explain it, realize just how far the student has to go, then move on into the explanation of why 3 x 3 is 9.  I may feel a passing judgment - thoughts are just thoughts - I let those pass - then I work to encourage my student and to accept exactly where they are and to help them see what their strengths are.  Lynn did that with me.

Thinking about it now brings a lump to my throat.  Chris commented, when I told him about it, that I like encouragement and having a coach.  That's so true.  And I don't really have that in my life otherwise.  Her kindness touched me so deeply I felt my heart split open.  I was feeling so vulnerable and broken in that spot, thinking about running, trying to jog.  She was so kind and encouraging.

When we got to the end of our run, she gave me a running log and suggested I fill it out so I can keep track of how much I'm running. We're planning to job twice/week.  Our first goal is for me to be able to run all the way across the bridge without stopping.  That would be almost a mile.  That would truly be an accomplishment for me.  Then she has suggested I run a 5K in July.  OK.  She runs marathons and does half-Iron Men competitions.  She is very very kind.

So this is a big deal for me.  Others who are athletic and who grew up comfortable in their bodies might not understand that.  Oh well.  Hopefully I can be gentle with myself and can encourage myself and can accept Lynn's kindness.  It's so bizarre, but it's difficult, actually, to accept loving kindness sometimes.  I'm so tough on myself at times that it's painful to just be accepted where I am for exactly how I am.  But I intend to learn how!  It definitely feels better than the alternative.

This blog won't become my jogging log, but I felt it worth talking about here, because I have a feeling that I'm not the only person in the world to have some of these feelings, and perhaps people will feel less alone to realize that.

Happy Jogging!  And please be kind to yourself.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

After I finished Valley's Folds yesterday, I realized I still had a lot of time to play in the studio, so I looked through scores of images to pick another one which would be good to do in pastels.  I found one I've loved for about 18 years since I took it.  I used to photograph my friends when they were pregnant as their gift from me to them and their family.  This is one of those pictures.  The woman in it was in my Women's Group.  She taught Pregnancy Yoga and taught me so much about being in my body and being pregnant.  She was quite intuitive and compassionate.  She was studying to be a midwife and attended many, many births with the local midwife, including the birth of my youngest child.  She moved from Richmond some years ago, and I've lost track of her.  It's quite a loss.  I dearly loved having her in my life.  Perhaps she'll see this image and get in touch again.  That would be so lovely.

I don't think it's obvious when looking at this image, but my friend is pregnant in it, waiting for the birth of her third daughter.  I have several images from our photo shoot that day I'd like to draw.  Such a beautiful woman, so full of soul.  I hope she is happy and prospering wherever she may be...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Valley's Folds

Yesterday was one of the most focused days I've had in the studio in a while.  I don't have any canvases prepared (Chris has been VERY busy lately with work and hasn't had time to make them, plus I finished two canvases all of a sudden at once) so I decided to do some pieces in pastel.  I hadn't worked in pastel in quite a while, since doing Scar and Scarf which I did last year sometime.  I remember at the time being very excited to be working in pastels again, but I didn't do more than that.  What I liked about it was how skilled I feel in it and how well I was able to evoke the texture of not only her skin, but also her felted scarf.  It's an almost abstract piece, difficult to read, but beautiful despite/because of that.

A couple of days ago when I realized I was out of canvases, I decided to begin a piece for my collaboration show coming up at Randolph Macon College in February 2011.  I've already photographed the model and am beginning to work on the pieces.  I'm very excited about this show.  I think I've written about it before, so I won't explain it again, but Valley Haggard, a wonderful woman and just as wonderful writer is my collaborator in the project.  She'll be writing about her process as my model - what it's like for her to think about being photographed and painted, how the photography process is, how it is to see the work as it happens - what it's like to immortalized on canvas and/or paper.  I'm loving working with her because she's so aware of her feelings and open about sharing them.  We seem to be on the same wavelength, so our collaboration is turning out to be richer than my individual efforts would be without it.  It's a great experience!

So...  the first piece I did in pastel is called Valley's Folds, a play on her name as well as the landscape/abstract feeling of the piece.  I'm delighted by the broad range of colors and textures as well as the composition.  There are perhaps 15 layers of color which all interact with each other at the subconscious level to give a vast richness of skin and shadow tones.  It's not possible to reproduce it on the computer screen because it and the camera reproduce only a few of the layers. 

Valley has a wonderful scar on her side and back which is one of the subjects of this piece.  I believe she will be writing about it as part of her response to the process.  I look forward to seeing how it corresponds to my response to it.

Collaboration is very cool!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Advertisements and sexy women

I was looking through Dwell Magazine the other day and noticed that the ads for household products are as sexy as those for clothes which are in Vanity Fair, and both of these genres of ads portray women exceedingly differently than I do.  Can you figure out what the ad on the left is trying to sell?  Where does your eye go?  What is it you'd like to buy/have when you see this ad? 
I immediately noticed the woman's legs and hair since they offer the greatest contrast in the picture.  And I want to be her, getting up on a beautiful sunlit morning, having such a gorgeous picture window next to my toilet (uh, do I really want a huge window next to my toilet?).  Anyway, she's beautiful.  Her legs are perfect.  Her hair is perfect.  Then I wonder what I'm being sold.  Oh, bathroom fixtures.  But they look plastic and cold and uncomfortable, and I have no interest in a bidet - I never have been able to figure out what they're for anyway, but now magazines are trying to sell those, just like they're working on selling outdoor kitchens, as if we need a $15,000 "room" outside to cook in, when most of us don't use the perfectly wonderful kitchen we have indoors already.

So this ad makes me feel inadequate because my legs don't look like that; I don't have or know how to use a bidet; my bathroom is much smaller than that; I wonder if my husband wishes I looked like that.

This next picture is supposed to be selling a red sofa, I think.  But all I can see is the pretty woman with cleavage perched uncomfortably on the sofa, hanging up pictures on a line.  I can feel my stomach contract with tension because that's how I would feel if I were perched like that on a squishy sofa with my high heels off the edge.  It seems like it would be much easier to stand up and hang up the pictures, but then, of course, the sofa wouldn't be as noticeable.  Why is it necessary to have a pretty woman in the picture at all? 
This is what I mean when I say that sex is used to sell things, and that the media is giving us a warped sense of how women should look.  The next two pictures are much more obvious.  They're from Vanity Fair and are for clothing.
How many women do you know who are that skinny?  With legs that long?  I think the picture has even been distorted to be longer than it should be.  And look at those shoes.  Unless you're a ballerina with experience en pointe, how could you even think about walking in them?  Your feet would be damaged in an hour.  Her look is provocative and discomforting.  I feel like she is saying, "Come hither, but when you do I'm going to cut you to shreds." 
This last picture I think is very beautiful compositionally.  I love the curves and the light and the dark, the waves and colors.  I think it's truly beautiful.  But besides that, it is again a rather unrealistic vision of how women really look.  How many of us curve like that with our eyes closed in seeming ecstacy with our hair blowing in the wind and our lipstick glimmering sexily with no panty line or bra line showing through such a skin-tight dress?  It is very appealing to think I would look like that if I wore that dress, but I have a feeling there aren't all that many women it would look so good on.  So looking at her, I could again feel inadequate that I don't look like that and probably never will again, if I ever did.  I don't know if grey hair blows in the wind like that.

I heard on NPR that as women age, they would have to exercise 60 minutes/day to not gain weight.  I guess that explains why there's middle-age spread for most women in the US these days.  Not too many people spend that much time exercising, I don't think.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Visible Vagina

My darlin' husband, ever on the lookout for things I can write about on my blog, found this exhibit in one of my art magazines:

It's in NYC and is called The Visible Vagina.  It's a series of pictures done by both men and women on vaginas.  I think the artistic quality of the pieces varies - some I find compelling, others not so much.  I found it interesting to look at the pieces and to try to determine whether I thought they were done by a man or a woman.  I'm not sure why it was so evident, but I was usually correct.  I think there's more sympathy and understanding in the women's pieces.  The men's pieces were generally more about sex or perceiving the women as sexual objects - not so surprising, really - and quite interesting to see so clearly.

I also found that I was uncomfortable looking at most of the pieces.  Chris had sent me the link then came into the room when I was looking at the show.  I felt embarassed, like I had been caught doing something I shouldn't be doing - looking at representations of vaginas.  It was almost like I was caught looking at porn.  I realized that the discomfort I was feeling might be similar to what people sometimes feel when they look at my female nudes.  There was the voyeuristic part of me, wanting to see vaginas and what they look like to those artists.  There was the artist wanting to examine the pieces artistically.  And there was the mother, who would have been very embarassed if my kids had seen me looking at it - even though it was art.  I found myself questioning the intentions of the different artists - to thrill, to provoke, to inform, to offer beauty?  I felt some judgments when I didn't like the piece or if I thought the intention behind it wasn't pure (i.e. didn't go along with my intentions, most likely!)

It was an interesting set of feelings to experience.  I think it helped me understand some of the responses to my work better.  There are definitely certain boundaries that everyone has.  Mine may be further down the road than some peoples', but this set of pictures helped me recognize that I still have some places I'm not completely comfortable going!  Very cool!

great Facebook conversation

When I asked the question on Facebook, "Can you please tell me what it is about a naked body that freaks people out so much they will keep their children away from it as if it were an oncoming speeding train?" I had no idea I would get such great responses!  I'm putting them here to share more widely.  Folks have some really interesting thoughts about it.  Please feel free to join the conversation either on facebook or by posting your comments here.  (I've changed the names of people to numbers to protect the privacy of people involved unless I have explicit permission to include their names.) 

Susan Singer: Can someone please tell me what it is about a naked body that freaks people out so much they will keep their children away from it as if it were an oncoming speeding train? I really don't understand it.

#1: Pretty much the USA. I too have traveled and it's not the same anywhere else; well anywhere near a beach.

#2: neither do they!

#1: Hee hee.

Susan Singer:
No, no, you guys don't understand - we're too like-minded! I really need to understand the other point of view. Otherwise how will I work to help these folks love their bodies too? I'm so immersed in my view of how things should be that I can't see another point of view. I'm sure they have some valid points, and it would be good if I could address them. (Or if they are simply fear-based, it would be great to be able to address the fears and try to allay them.)

Hal Vaughan: I've heard that in a PG-13 movie a man can hack off a woman's breast, but he can't kiss it. Do we have a mixed up set of concerns or not?

#4: I've always had nudes in my bathrooms. I like them.

Hal Vaughan: I think it's because, in the US, nudity = sex. If children see naked bodies, then they'll want to know more and explore and will have sex. It's the logical fallacy (or phallacy, in this case?) of not drawing a line and assuming that taking the first step means one will take all the steps.

Susan Singer:
Hal, I think we might. Read my blog for more about that.

I'm curious - I have a model who is embarassed to buy the painting I did of her because she's worried people would see it and think... I'm not sure what she thinks they'd think... would you hang a painting of a nude somewhere other than a bathroom or your bedroom? What would it say about you if you did? (Or what do you think people would think?)

Susan Singer:
Hal, I think you're on to something. So, OK, then, what's actually wrong with having sex? (I know, that's going to open up a huge can of worms.) I wouldn't want my young children having sex - I don't think they're ready for it emotionally, but what's wrong with people having sex otherwise as long as it's consensual? My belief is that if we talk to kids about sex - I mean really talk to them about it - the good, the bad, and the ugly - then they're wise enough to make good choices - despite raging hormones. If they see affection and naked bodies when they're young and have a real choice, maybe they won't need to go around having sex to do each of those when they're too young just to have the experience. I think kids have sex to get affection, to spite their parents, because they don't know they have a choice, and lots of other reasons. And of course there are those hormone things! What if there were enough information for kids that they could actually make an informed choice?

#1: Planned Parenthood gets info out there as much as possible. Hormones rule. I distinctly remember not knowing what to do with mine! Even when I thought I did know.

#5: "Take off all your clothes and walk down the street waving a machete and firing an Uzi, and terrified [American] citizens will phone the police and report: 'There's a naked person outside!' " (Mike Nichols)

#1: Weapons are legal.

#1: #2 said it, here, "neither do they!" Seems to me the first people to set foot on this shore were covered from chin to toe.

Susan Singer
#5, you're killin' me! That's the best quote I've heard all day!

#1, which people do you mean? The people who wandered over by foot across the Bearing (sp?) Straight or the Europeans with weapons?

#1: The European's with weapons. No bare feet, no bare anything=)

Hal Vaughan: The problem is that the people that don't want nudity are the same ones who will NOT allow anyone else to talk to or teach their children about sex and, in my experience as a teacher (mostly in residential treatment), they tell their kids info that the kids don't want to know (like "God says don't do it until you're married). They don't talk about... See More the hormones or anything else -- and I think a lot of it is because they were treated that way as kids and barely know more than which parts go where themselves, so they get flustered and don't want to admit they know so little in the first place.

#1: There is definitely a lot of truth to that, Hal. And every child is different. I have found, from personal experience, that as soon as children think of what goes where, they look at they parents in complete disbelief. Parents have a hard time with that imagery in their child's mind.

#1: It passes.

#6: I'm still blaming the Puritans...and their unclaimed baggage...

#7: Nudity is art and nakedness is shameful it's a point of view based on personal vulnerabilities and a mind set....... that plus the fear of uncontrollable leakage, we're only flawed humans and filled with psychosis. We live in a fallen world.

#8: The very words "nude" and "naked" have huge differences in my experience. Nude is natural, nude is art, nude can be beautiful and peaceful. Naked is vulnerable, scary, and joked about/jeered at. "Nekkid" can be said in lighthearted fun with the right companion or good friends, but "naked" is just... somehow the word makes me want to cringe.

Susan Singer
I'm loving this conversation. You all have such interesting input and insights. I really appreciate it.

How would you feel about my posting your comments on my blog? I could use your name or not use your name - your choice - or I'll not use your comment if you prefer. Thanks for considering the possibility.

Hal Vaughan: So how come lovers tend to say, "Let's get naked together," (or "Let's get nekkid together") instead of "Let's get nude together?"

You can post my comments and, heck, you can even use my full name if you want.

#1: Let's get naked and let Susan paint us=)
So, #7, is your last name really "Peeler"? hee hee.

#9: After we voted to accept a nude figure painter for an exhibition at a local art center, one of the committee members quit, saying, "this is a family art center, and my ten-year-old can't handle nudes." Another member said, "Well, better not take him to Italy."

Susan Singer
That reminds me of a student of mine whose brother wouldn't go to the National Gallery in DC because he didn't want his 16-year-old daughter to see the nudes. Two years later, mind you, that same daughter won an all expense paid trip to Paris for a painting she did of her and her boyfriend - both nude from the waist up!

I don't think it works to restrict children from life.

Hal Vaughan: "I don't think it works to restrict children from life."

I wish "The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg" ( by Mark Twain were mandatory reading for EVERYONE before they turned 18. It's a short story and I strongly recommend it. It's about a town that protects everyone from temptation, so once they're faced with it, they don't know how to respond.

I taught for a year in a fundamentalist church school (I needed a job!) and saw so many false limits placed on kids that would one day be out in the world facing all the things their parents hid from them

Hiding the truth of life from kids is just stupid. They'll see it all soon enough -- should they face it with guidance or when they can legally do it all and don't have any of the restrictions they do when living with Mom and Dad?

#1: Love the story Susan. It's not about restriction for me, it's about maturity and the ability of a very young person to have a place in their head for certain information and images. Adult content and sex are two different things.

Susan Singer
#1, I'm interested in what you're saying - I agree completely about kids being exposed to porn (I'm thinking that's what you mean by "adult content" - images and information they're not ready for. My son had a very bizarre experience once - he was bringing our garbage cans around back from the street and saw some porn magazines in them - ... someone had apparently thrown them in there for some weird reason. My son was very confused and weirded out by what he saw - he was maybe 8 or 9. That was obviously not helpful for him.

I also think that if kids see nude bodies as they grow up, then nudity won't be bizarre and strange and weird and scary and strange. I'm not talking about kids watching sex or porn. Rather, I'm talking about kids seeing the authentic human body in normal settings so that it is normal for them. Then I think it is healthy and comfortable and they can grow up with a more normal view of bodies, including their own.

#1: Personally, I like your work, you are very accomplished. As a 57 yr. old, I have a hard time with the aging process and gravity, as it were. I'm planning a show on my Birthday, Oct. 12 and am planning a "nude" presenation along with the name "Abstract Revealed". hee hee. I'm scared.

I'm planning a photo of me in front of one of my really large paintings, painted as well? Most of me anyway. I've go to loose 10lbs. My kids are gonna die! and my mom.

#1: In Mexico, there little statues of couples, making love, all over the place in perfect view of children. There is a very large sculpture, on a playground in Mexico City of a woman laying on her side and the kids can go into her mouth and come out of her bottom? It's weird, but there aren't too many secrets, it appears.

Hal Vaughan: Susan: Are you saying that bodies in porn aren't authentic?!?! But they're real human bodies! They're real flesh and blood and steroids and silicone and ... oh, never mind!

When I was a kid my parents let me try beer -- hated the taste but I'd try it every now and then, hoping I developed a taste for it. The same with wine, but after about 12, ... I kind of liked wine and they'd let me have a glass. Then when all the other kids were making a big deal out of drinking, some said, "It was never a big deal to me, since my parents let me try it when I was a kid." Well, it was so little of a deal because of how my parents handled it, that I didn't even realize it wasn't a big deal -- it was a total non-issue for me.

I think if we weren't so uptight about nudity, Hugh Hefner would not be a millionaire and the same with Larry Flint and all others like them. Men wouldn't pay money for naked bodies if it weren't such a big deal.

Hal Vaughan: #1, I'm 47 and in denial. Honestly, though, after spending years running a business 24/7 (which is why Susan hasn't seen me at Meeting for a good while!), I'm getting in better shape and I've become addicted to ballroom dancing, which is really helping me as I challenge myself in that field. It's great to see myself losing weight and getting ... back in shape.

Many men wear shirts slit open to the waist. I won't be doing that for a long while -- likely never, but there certainly is no shame of one's body in ballroom competition!

#1: I agree that porn and nudity are two different things. Nude ballroom dancing would be interesting. Where would you put the top hat then?

I'm just kidding Hal. I think nude ballroom dancing would be pretty. Back to that weight thing, having fun and loosing weight at the same time. Cool. I don't dance or run anymore. This is hard.

#10: Susan... I've been following your work for a few years (ever since I saw them in Richmond a few years ago when Mom and I came to visit) and have been a fan. You bring an elegance, a quiet beauty, a comfortable quality to the subjects you paint -- I see them as "art" and not "pornography" but then I like to think I'm not so offended by the nude body (there are some people I would just LOVE to see nude... Johnny Depp, Daniel Craig, the list goes on... ha!) and art is totally subjective. As is literature, music, religion. I've been pondering your questions, too, and I can tell you from MY point of view that I've only recently been comfortable in my own "skin" so to speak. I live alone (for now!) and frequently make the run from my bedroom on the 1st floor to the laundry room on the 2nd floor completely naked to fish clothes out of the dryer... always peaking around the corner to make sure my neighbors or yard guys are not in front of the front door where they'd see me in all my gloriousness as I dash up the stairs. However, in doing so, I feel a little tinge of "how cool and comfortable am I to be doing this" despite not wanting my neighbors to see -- its not out of embarrassment for my nakedness, its out of not wanting to make them uncomfortable the next time they see me at the mailbox. Having said that, I've been keeping my request for you to paint ME on the tip of my tongue for a few months. Still not convinced that I could pose for you, being family... my own mother hasn't seen me naked since I was little! But yet I have no problem changing clothes in front of my girl friends or, for that matter, my boyfriend and I've walked through the house in an over sized t-shirt and underwear in front of his 7 year old son without batting an eye. I think I have a beautiful, womanly body and I do admire it in the mirror when I get out of the shower and would be proud to have a painting - especially by my cousin - on display. But yet I think I would have to hide it when my boyfriend's son was visiting.

I'm curious to hear what you have to say in response. ♥

Hal Vaughan: #1, nude ballroom dancing would be rather awkward, especially at higher levels where one uses a rather close hold and, honestly, clothes keep the dangly bits from getting in the way.

Plus, in truth, it's no fun having to stick your right hand into a number of armpits during the summer with the inexperienced woman dancers who don't wear actual sleeves and go with straps instead.

I think that brings up the other end of the range. While one can be comfortable and unashamed of being nude, I've only recently discovered there can be a good side to dressing up. For most of my life I had the Quaker attitude that simplicity was better and fancier clothes were just a way of hiding one's self. I always hated anything more formal than jeans and a t-shirt, but now I love the chance to put on my tux, like in my avatar, where I have a top-hat, tails, white gloves, and even a dance cane. I don't think an acceptance of nudity or formal clothing necessarily negates an acceptance and/or appreciation of the other.

#7: Yes, #1, my name is really Peeler which is synonymous with strippers as well as the police there is even a store in Hollywood called Peeler's that sells clothing with these subjects as motifs.

I have children and an art degree and I have taken my 7 year old to all the museums I can since he was a baby. He has seen lots of nudity, we have always had a Waterhouse print in our living room which has beautiful nude water nymphs as the subject. He has no problem with any of this. He was also nursing at 3-1/2 and his baby brother is being nursed now he is not bothered by any of it and is also respectful of everyone bodies and privacy and knows what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior when it comes to our bodies. I do think he might be troubled by seeing our neighbors gardening and doing assorted home maintenance in the buff though, I could be wrong I am sure he would be concerned for their safety.

#1: Bravo gentlemen! Thanks for the personal, can't wait to meet you all sometime, maybe at an art opening?

Susan Singer
#7, I have raised my kids the way you're raising yours. It was admittedly challenging for them when I was working on my 12 Naked Men series when they were teenagers - at times they would refuse to have friends over unless I took the pictures down. I worry that might have been weird for them - but now when I ask my 18-year-old if I need to take stuff down, he just looks at me and says, "Mom, I am SO over that!" He actually has two friends who are girls who draw the female figure themselves. They have conversations about the female body frequently. How many 18-year-old young men could do that with a straight face and a modicum of comfort?!

Monday, March 22, 2010

great quote

We're having a great conversation on Facebook today addressing the question of what is so threatening to people about the naked body.  One of the participants posted the following quote which made me laugh outloud because I perceive it as so true!

"Take off all your clothes and walk down the street waving a machete and firing an Uzi, and terrified [American] citizens will phone the police and report: 'There's a naked person outside!' " (Mike Nichols)

And here's a picture I found on Google when I googled "Naked man with machine gun."  Notice who actually has the guns!

What is it about the naked body that freaks people out so much?

Can someone please tell me what it is about the naked human body that freaks people out so much?  I'm serious.  I really don't get it.

A couple of months ago I volunteered to lead a workshop for some inner city youth about women's body image.  I was thinking I would show some slides of my work and prompt a conversation based on that about bodies and body image.  I would also show slides from art history like the ones I've had on this blog before - you know, Rembrandt, Manet, Picasso - people who get paid big bucks for their work so are presumably acceptable to society.

The first response I got from the coordinators is that they were going to have to think about it because the workshops would be held in a church.

Excuse me?  Is there something in the Bible which forbids nakedness?  Maybe there is and I don't know about it, because that does seem to be a strong force against nudity.

I wonder what it is that makes people try to keep their children from seeing naked bodies with the force they'd use to keep them from being run over by a speeding train.  It's as if breasts or penises or bellies could corrupt them and turn them into sex workers.  Or an image could rape them.  I really don't understand.

One of my tutoring students who is 18 and reads my blog all the time (you know who you are!) talked to me about this the other day.  She said, "Ms. Singer, you just don't understand.  Maybe you lived in Europe too long.  People just don't want to see naked people."  I told her I'm aware of that, but I want to know why.  What is it that makes nudity so threatening?


We all have bodies.  We generally keep them covered up.  Some of that has to do with trying to stay warm if we live in a cool or cold climate.  But it seems to me that as soon as it's possible to do so, people (especially teenagers) strip down to as little clothing as possible.  Just look at these two pictures of girls on the beach.  To me, these girls are sexier than the models I paint.  They are out to attract attention (or so it looks to me), especially the one girl, as opposed to the two who just seem to be walking.  It occurs to me that wearing just a little bit of clothing, in just the right places, is more provocative than seeing everything.

People I know who have been to nude beaches say there is a certain fascination at first - you have to gawk because you're getting to see what you've never been allowed to look at before - but pretty soon you realize that it's not really all that interesting.  There are people of all sizes and shapes there, hanging out all over the place (pun intended!).  The image I have here from a nude beach in France is not very much more revealing than the one of the two girls walking down the beach.  What is it about the butt cracks that make people get so freaked out?

In Europe, people worry about their children watching movies repleat with violence - they're worried that all that killing might give the kids the wrong impression of how to be in the world.  They don't get uptight about the kids seeing bodies.  After all, what could a naked body do to harm them?  How is nudity a bad message?

The reason I'm so up in arms about this today is that a different coordinator for the same youth conference contacted me today to ask what I was thinking about doing for my workshop.  She is familiar with my work and my values and beliefs.  She said that the conference is being held in a church and that they would risk losing their right to hold the conference there if I were to show my work as part of my workshop.  And the organization might lose their grant funding if anyone complained and the word got back to the funders.  Has it now become against people's ethics to discuss the human body in all its beauty?  Or to show authentic flesh?

My intention in volunteering to do the workshop was to work with girls who may not have had a chance to think much about this topic - loving their bodies.  They, like all of us, are most likely bombarded by images of women who have attained an ideal set by the media but unattainable by the vast majority of females on this planet - 6 feet tall, 130 pounds, ribs showing, long straight hair, caucasian features, small breasts, slender hips, no butt.  So these girls, most of whom are African American, have to contend with images of beauty which they can NEVER hope to attain. No way, no how, not in this lifetime.

So what if I were to show them pictures of real women?  What if they were to see naked women with real hips and breasts and rolls of belly and scars?  And what if those women were also beautiful?  Not in the conventional sense perhaps, but fundamentally gorgeous because they feel that way.  Where else will I be able to find images of beautiful women who don't conform to media's standards?  How else can I show them examples of beauty that differs from the norm?  (I found the image above when I googled heavy black woman - she hardly looks black - her skin is so light, and her hair is so straight - what message are these girls getting?)

Sure, I can have them go through magazines and find pictures of things they find beautiful and put them on one board, then pictures of people that are ugly (if there are any other than the "before" ads for losing weight in your belly), then talk about their perceptions and where they may have come from.

But this restriction to not show them my work or any nude bodies keeps me from being able to do the most important part of the workshop.  I need to show them what beauty CAN BE besides all these frail rail-thin creatures.  I want to show them what a real body looks like.  How many of these girls have ever even seen a naked body other than their own (if they've even had the courage to look at that?) or maybe their mother's.  And what are the chances that they have the message that those are beautiful?  I don't have any paintings of African Americans, unfortunately.  I need some models so I can expand away from beautiful caucasian (and one gorgeous Indian) bodies so I can have more examples in many skin colors.  But I believe that seeing women's bodies as they really are is powerful.  Even if I were just to show breasts and hips and butts, divorced from the bodies.  Girls need to see REAL bodies, not unflawed airbrushed plastic! 

So I'm up in arms today.  I'm confused.  I'm perplexed.  I'm energized.  I want things to be different. 

And I really need someone to explain to me what it is about the human body that makes people so damn uncomfortable.  Because I no longer get it.  I just can't see the other side of this issue anymore.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Collaboration with Valley Haggard for Randolph Macon Show

I'm feeling very excited about another show I have coming up in February 2011.  At Randolph Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, there's going to be a show about collaboration.  Four pairs of artists are going to collaborate to create artwork together. 

Amie Oliver and Harry Kollatz from Richmond are going to work together.  Amie paints beautiful pictures of what look like glazes on birch plywood with drawings overtop, very atmospheric and graceful.  Harry is a writer for Richmond Magazine and other publications around town.  He also has written a couple of books about Richmond.  They're married to each other, so I'm curious to see what that collaboration will be like!  I think the curator said they've collaborated in the past as well.

Architect Roberto Ventura and poet Josh Poteet were the winners of InLight Richmond this past year, creating a sublimely beautiful installation about slavery and freedom called "for gabriel".  They will be collaborating again for the space at Randolph Macon. 

The third "pair" will actually be just one person - Dash Shaw - who is a cartoonist/graphic novelist who lives and works in NYC but is from Richmond.  Since he does the words and pictures himself, he's doing both parts.

The fourth pair is Valley Haggard and me.  Valley is a freelance writer working here in Richmond.  She's working on an especially interesting series of essays for Belle Magazine about different healing modalities she's tried out and the effects they've had on her.  I photographed Valley about a month ago, and she's writing about the experience of modelling, the feelings it has brought up, thoughts she's had about it, etc. I'll be painting several pictures of her over the course of the next year for inclusion in the show.  We're meeting every so often to talk about the process.  This morning I spent several hours picking out pictures I'd like to paint.  I woke up this morning and couldn't get them out of my head, so I figured that was the next right thing to do!  I'm very excited to get going on this project. 

I'll let you know more about the show as it evolves.  I think it'll be very interesting.  I'm excited about my collaboration with Valley and am loving seeing how much talking with her and working with her is adding to the whole process.  It's awesome!  And I'm interested to find out how other people collaborate and what sort of work they come up with.  It's a very interesting process.

And now.... into the studio with me!  I've procrastinated enough for one day!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

excellent article about body image

My brother sent me a terrific link to a website with a lot of research about women's body image.  I found it fascinating.

Authentic Flesh showing in October

Drum roll, please!

For all of you who have been wondering when you're ever going to get a chance to see these beautiful women I've been painting in real life, your wait will soon be over!  I don't know if you'll get to see the women themselves, but you can definitely come see the paintings!

Here's the press release we'll be sending out this week - you're the first to know!

Susan Singer – painting all the naked women in Richmond, one at a time…

Richmond, VA – Visual Art Studio is pleased to announce the Opening Reception First Friday, October 1, 2010 of Authentic Flesh, the newest series of paintings to come from the brush of the talented Susan Singer. Coming several years after her provocative and very successful life size pastel series, 12 Naked Men, Authentic Flesh is meant to awaken the viewer to the beauty of the female form in all of its variations. Singer has exquisitely painted women from age 23 to age 89, from the excruciatingly thin to the quite portly, all of them emanating the power of their individual form and being.

In today’s society, the media seems to be in charge of creating the image people have of the “perfect” woman’s body. Singer hopes to crash through the belief that a woman must be tall and rail thin to be beautiful. She presents women who are beautiful because they feel gorgeous. They live authentically within their own skin and feel great about themselves – perhaps not always - but that is the overall feeling that one gets from looking at these luminescent paintings. The women radiate in their own beauty and show us what it can be like to be a person who knows her own worth.

Authentic Flesh, sure to be a blockbuster show, will premier at Visual Art Studio at 208 W. Broad Street, on First Friday, October 1, 2010. It will be on display, with many new works added, on First Friday, November 5th as well, and will close Wednesday, November 24th.

For more information, please contact Anne Hart Chay at Visual Art Studio, 804-644-1368 or the artist at .

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Thanks so much to everyone who came to Talk20 last night at 1708 gallery!  I had a great time, and I loved seeing each and every one of you there, especially if I knew you were there ; ) !

We had tons of people there - it was standing room only - maybe 175 people.  There were 8 artists who spoke for about 4 1/2 minutes each then took time to answer questions if there were any.  It was fascinating hearing what each artist/designer was working on and what he/she was thinking during the process.  People are doing such cool stuff.  Brian Korte showed us the picture he made out of Legos which is now in the Guiness Book of World Records!  Tiffany Glass talked about geocaching "real small art" all around Richmond and about giving away small canvases as a way to make someone's day.  Shelia Gray paints bodies and creates costumes just for the heck of it, and gardens and house and pet sits out of the goodness of her heart.  Gordon Stettinius has done a series of photographs of himself with all different kinds of hair and in different styles of dress.  They are fascinating!  It's hard to recognize him in all of them.  There were two designers there who talked about their process of figuring out how to decorate a building - there's so much more thought that goes into it than I ever knew.  And an artist who does prints of maps of places friends and family live.  All so interesting! 

As the fourth presenter, I spoke about my fascination with the human form for the last ten years, beginning with pregnant nudes, continuing on to scars, then naked men, and now the female form.  I showed primarily pictures from this new series and talked about how blessed I am by my models and their generosity in allowing me to paint them, their authenticity, their vulnerability, and their power and grace.  Slash Coleman at the end asked me a question I'm so grateful for.  He asked what the experience tends to be like for the models.  I answered that in many cases it has brought about healing, helping the models feel more comfortable in their own skin and helping them see how beautiful they truly are.  I was so glad to be able to bring that into the talk.  That, the healing, is the primary reason I do this work.  I would so love it if my work influenced people to think about their common perceptions of the body and to perhaps consider if they are logical/reasonable/rational or not.

Why do we believe that it's not OK to be naked?  When do we start to feel ashamed of or embarassed by our bodies?  What causes that to happen?  Society has very, very strong messages about being naked and about how the body should look.  What makes us believe those messages?  When do we start to take them on?  What can we do about it?

I think becoming aware of the messages is the first step.  I hope that when people look at my art, they will begin to think about the body.  Perhaps they will feel uncomfortable.  I'm OK with that.  Maybe they'll go a little bit deeper and start to ask themselves what is wrong with the painting?  Why are they uncomfortable?  What seems so wrong about it?  There is so much to be learned from the questions.

I have a student who thinks I'm OK with all this weirdness because I lived in Europe.  That may have contributed to my acceptance that I have a body, and it's not perfect, and that's OK.  But I think what has brought me to this place is rather that I have continued to paint the nude and to look at all these bodies.  How could I help but recognize the vulnerability and humanity of each and every person - each person is doing her best to be her best self, to live a good life, to get along in the world with as little pain as possible.  I treasure their trust and authenticity and openness with me.  I find each woman I've painted to be indescribably beautiful and powerful.  It's not about their bodies.  It's about their souls.  It's really the essence I try to paint, but I have to describe it using paint and by re-creating an image of their body surrounded by their skin.  But hopefully it's the soul that shines though.  And those are sublime.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Shell Studies

While at the Outer Banks on vacation, I brought many, many art supplies.  I brought oil paints and 10 canvases and an easel a student was generous enough to loan me.  I brought 2 boxes of pastels along with pastel paper.  I brought pencils and a gorgeous sketchbook I bought in Venice and am intimated to use because it's so beautiful.  And watercolors and brushes and paper.  It was a lot of stuff!  I made sure to use each thing while there.

One of the first days were were there, the weather was very nice, if somewhat blustery.  I decided that would be a good day to head to the beach to paint, unfamiliar easel and all.  I learned that it is cold painting outdoors at the beach in March, even with my loving husband as a windbreak and a tube-opener!  I painted two small canvases of the ocean and beach.  I am NOT yet skilled at painting the waves!  I spent a good deal of time staring at them trying to figure out how they work and how to paint them, but I will be the first to admit that I was not successful in either. The first painting I did with my palette knife.  It was fun to slop the paint around and to try to capture the extravagant vitality of the crashing waves, but when I was done, I knew it was not a keeper.  For one thing, there was too much paint on it to dry before leaving for home.  For another, it simply wasn't good enough.  Yuck!  The second one was better but not significantly.  I brought it home with me, but will not embarass myself by showing it here!  I have so much to learn about painting landscapes.  They are not my forte, darn it!  I kept thinking as I tried to paint the waves - I KNOW how to paint the body.  It makes sense to me.  It has defineable form and light and shadow and color and value.  These darn waves are so spectacular, but I can't figure out how to paint them at all!  I have pictures of them.  I guess I'll have to work from a few photos to try to decipher them then try plein aire again.

The next thing I did was to combine watercolor and pencil to draw some shells.  We were blessed to find many, many whelk shells so I wanted to draw them.  I love spirals, and they have great spirals!  Sadly the pencil made the watercolor turn out too grey and dull so that wasn't such a great idea, but I enjoyed the process.  I also find shells difficult to draw.

After that, I didn't want to stop so I used a burnt sienna-colored pen to draw the outlines of shells then filled them in with watercolor.  I feel like they were more successful.  I was able to paint the details and play with the patterns in ways that satisfied me more.  While walking on the beach, I kept finding shell fragments that I found absolutely beautiful.  Their patterns were compelling to me.  I decided to bring them back to the house (and ultimately cart them home) so I could be inspired by nature.

After painting the watercolor shells, I got out my pastels and used the patterns and colors as the stepping off for color studies.  Here's the most obvious one:

I really liked the 3-D effect of the ups and downs on the shell.

This is from those purple and white shells that I find everywhere and think are so beautiful.  I love the colors.  The drawing reminds me of a sunrise as well as the shell.

This one is based on the movement in the shell. It was very 3 dimensional and had wonderful colors in it.

This came from my favorite shell.  The shell was just a sliver of an ivory-colored shell with very fine blue lines pitched at just the curved angle I have above.  It was so delicate and beautiful.

I tried a different technique for this one - cross-hatching.  It certainly gives it a different feel.

This last one is based on a scallop shell I found and is more like the color studies I worked on a few years ago.  I really like the juxtaposition of colors and the fieriness of it.

Thanks for taking a look!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Creating Nature Art

We had a wonderful restorative time in the Outer Banks!  The weather was not-to-be-believed-beautiful!  We had a day and a half of bad weather with lots of rain - perfect excuse to stay inside and read and cook good meals and hang out together.  The rest of the time was gorgeous!  Sunny, 60 degrees, comfortable, not too breezy.  We did a lot of walking on the beach - Chris went for a five hour walk one day - boy, was he sore the next!

One day we walked a long way into the National Park.  We found a huge 35' tall pine tree that had been washed up onto the shore - WAY up!  All the bark was stripped off, and it was almost driftwood - except for the roots which still had bark on them - that's how I could identify it.  There was a knife stuck in it, so Chris carved our names into the tree - my first!  Then I began doing an Andrew Goldsworthy.  (If you don't know who he is, check out his work.  It's amazing!  He's an artist who works in nature, taking natural elements and creating order out of them.  The picture here is one of his.)  What I did was nowhere near as interesting as that, but I had fun!  I began gathering up debris on the beach - both natural and unnatural - and decorating the tree.  We stuck plastic bottles on the roots and plastic bottle caps all over like Christmas ornaments.  I hung found rope around the branches like garlands.  There were 100's of birds' feathers which I stuck out of the roots every which way, then I lined the long straight trunk with 100 shells in a straight line. It was so absorbing to modify nature by embellishing it with its own beauty along with mankind's trash.  Sadly, I didn't have my camera with me, so I can't show what it looked like, but below are some pictures from other Nature Art sessions I've taken part in.

The first is from the summer at The Clearing in Amelia County.  It's a Quaker retreat place where I go sometimes for weekends just to be away from it all.  There are many acres of beauty.  Chris and I often go there today.  One time we spent an afternoon creating art...  The sticks you see there are wrapped in green spring leaves.

One of the most fun times I had making nature art was in April at a Contact Improvisation Jam at Claymont in West Virginia.  I used to go there 2-3 times/year to dance for 4 or 5 days at a time.  It was fantastically fun!  One time we watched the Andy Goldsworthy video then the next day went out and played in nature for several hours.  Folks would walk along as we were doing it and join us or gawk or admire.  It was wonderful.  Here are several pictures from then:

I'm very taken with the difference between these two pictures of the rock circle.  They're at the exact same time of day.  All that changed is the angle from which I took the shot.  Andrew Goldsworthy plays with the change in light a lot too.
Circles seemed to be a thing for us that day.
Our friends liked the rock circle too!
Some of these are subtle.  Can you find our contribution in this one?

I was fascinated by the dandelions which were in great profusion at that time of year - April.  I made them into chains and bunches and strings and patterns and anything else I could think of.
Another woman hung hers from a tree.  Delightful!
If the rocks could talk, what would they be saying now?

The third time I really enjoy making Nature Art was when I led a workshop in January at a Quaker Women's Retreat.  I showed bits of Andrew Goldsworthy's video then we all went outside and made stuff.  It was cool to see how intent everyone got.  Afterwards many people came out to take a look and to delight at the many creations.

The circle was again a compelling shape to create.

Perhaps you can tell from the light that it was cold and clear this January day, but that didn't stop people from creating.  The available materials were sparse - nothing was blooming, almost everything was dormant, but still people found beauty and creativity abounding.

And yet another season: Fall - October.  This time I was at Dayspring Retreat Center for a Silent Retreat with the Quakers.  (I used to go to a LOT of retreats!  Back in the days when I was single and had weekends without my kids and needed something to keep me busy so I wouldn't miss them!)

Fall leaves are my favorite - there's so much you can do with the blazing colors.
This was contributed by Mother Nature herself.  No arrangements necessary on my part.  Same for the pictures below.  They were just waiting for me to notice.  That's the wonderful thing about Silent Retreats - I take the time to notice because there are no distractions.  Pure silence, out in nature, time to think and feel and notice.  Ahhhhhhhhhhh.

So now are you inspired to go out and make something beautiful where you live? On the street, in the back alley, in your garden? Wherever you are, you can find or create a pattern. Chances are, once you start, people will want to join you. It's a very solitary pursuit, but it does tend to engage others in wonderful ways. I'd love to see pictures of anything you create! Have fun!