Lady shrimp plays the trombone, & other art flights of fancy

It’s been a busy summer for Sideways Gaze Signs!

Café Zydeco invited me back to finish the theme I started back when it was snowing – sea creatures playing Cajun music:


The catfish whiskers should make it perfectly clear: NOT a dolphin!
A lady shrimp plays the trombone. As they do.
A lady shrimp playing the trombone. As they do.

A new client, the adorable clothing shop Sora, had me paint their hours on the door, and hopefully there’ll be more creative work to come… I was grateful for the shade, painting on the north side of the block on a blistering afternoon.

Vinyl vs hand-painted.
Vinyl (top) vs hand-painted (below).

Here’s Johnny Townmouse, carrying his picnic basket to the market on the window of perennial client, Red Rooster Home:

Thank you again, Beatrix Potter!
Thanks, Beatrix Potter!
But no thanks to this nearly-new brush!
But no thanks to this nearly-new brush.

The businesses on that same block commissioned me to paint a dozen oak barrels, front and back. They are “branding” their block, North of Broadway, as “NOBO.” (I suppose it should be NoBro, but that would discourage about 25% of the clientele.) So I ordered a stencil – not something I usually do, but given that I’d be painting the same thing 23 times, it seemed worthwhile.

This job was a technical challenge – thanks to Sign Pro for the stencil, and Sherwin Williams for mixing and fine-tuning the paint and primer! The most popular passerby comments as I sat cross-legged on my dropcloth and painted logo after logo were:

  1. What does NOBO stand for?
  2. NOBO… don’t you mean HOBO?

My “uniform” of paint-spattered clothes lends a workingman’s invisibility, as people who would normally ask me for money, don’t, and many people who would normally greet me, don’t. I get a lot of positive comments, since sign-painting is a spectator sport, but my favorite reaction is a child watching transfixed, unashamed to stare. People are kind. “Hey sis, you got some paint on your cheek,” a homeless man points out. An Oxford regular, frequently plastered, offers to pick me one of the sweet red strawberries growing in the top of the barrels, hidden among the flowers. And I’m on a first-name basis with Troy, the local mailman, who is always interested to see where I’ll pop up next.

It took some gymnastics to reach all the barrels, which were filled with gravel and dirt and plants, thus impossible to move. A couple required me to weave my trunk through bike racks to get the necessary angles…

Plus, people had the nerve to lock their bikes to the racks.

I also took a drawing class this spring, again with Bob Phinney at the Lifelong Learning Center. The homework was a sketch every day. I wasn’t quite that diligent, but here are a few favorites among dozens of sketches.

Osprey nest, skatepark loungers
Osprey nest, skatepark loungers
Observing the observation tool.
Observing the observation tool.
Logpile with unexplained square. Looks like a book cover?
Logs with unexplained square. Book cover, maybe?

A couple approaches to a still life.

The class included techniques for drawing people without staring at them and hence creeping them out. The most fascinating tactic: look at your subject for a second, shut your eyes and stare at the afterimage burned into your eyelids, then look down and draw FAST – everything you can remember from the hovering, ephemeral shape. Drawing from memory is handy, especially for objects in motion – animals, little league players, hipsters.

Dog not included.
Oh, there's the dog. By the dreadlock hippies.
Oh, there’s the dog. By the dreadlock hippies.

Soon I’ll be branching out into sandwich boards, metallic copper paint, and perhaps some earthy interior work for a massage therapist… stay tuned!

Village of dreams, city of colors

The Red Rooster is a shop in Missoula’s historic downtown, in an old building with creaky floorboards. There’s a hidden door to the basement, Harry Potter style, where I stash my paints and dream of the passageways and sidewalk vaults of historic Underground Missoula. The store itself brims with fine housewares arranged in pyramids of formidable height and balance. Who is the patron saint of not being a bull in a china shop? Props to that saint: it’s amazing that I don’t shatter anything while carrying ladders back and forth, wider than usual in four layers of painter’s clothes, or opening and closing the hidden door, upon which hang about two hundred kitchen implements that chime more or less gently as one passes through.

Kim, Janae and Heather, the owner and employees, are a creative, enthusiastic and friendly trio. Kim hired me to paint a Beatrix Potter-style scene advertising their spring extravaganza, which– I cannot even describe what they’ve done, but I’ll try. The shop is a world within a world. In every nook, there’s a fully decorated miniature cottage in woodland style, with woodland denizens, each themed and detailed down to the tiny letter in the tiny post box. The roofs are thatch or twig or faux grass. In the big window, a four-foot tree house spreads its limbs, well-read mice relaxing within its plush library. Children can visit and search for treasures, but I’m pretty sure adults would find it just as fascinating. It’s the closest thing Missoula may have to the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Chicago Museum of Art. Here’s a sample (click to enlarge):

IMG_20160303_122923126 IMG_20160302_172501034_HDR IMG_20160303_122905957

It’s even more cunning in person. (Viz.: the rabbit artist is painting a human nude. Touché.) Red Rooster will be open late for First Friday, so if you’re local, stop in during the gallery crawl. The display is also visible during regular business hours for the following dates:


And. On the opposite end of the spectrum from Victorian miniatures: Red Rooster is also adjacent to the Oxford Bar, a.k.a. the Ox, probably the diviest bar in Missoula. So while painting, I was a fly on the wall (an artisan on the ladder?) by the Ox’s regular cast of the troubled, the wandering, the addicted: a slew of coughing humans taking shifts on its smoking bench, set kindly below an awning to keep off chilly rain. An astonishing number of scarred-lung loogies were retched up and deposited on the pavement.

The men and women chatted about where one could sleep for a few nights without the sheriff finding one and flushing one from the bushes. They riffed on DUIs, grudges, long-ago origin stories. There were occasional shouts and slurs, but they were kind to me. Maybe people respect an artist in working clothes? The Oxfordians ambled over, wafting second-hand smoke, and literally watched the paint dry. Many people shared stories about their own art, often with much (justifiable) pride. One guy learned horsehair weaving in prison, making belts and headdresses. Another man insisted upon gifting me a can of auto glass cleaner to help keep the windows nice. The harshest jibe I got was “I hate to break it to ya, man, but that ain’t no rooster!” as I put the finishing touches on Jemima Puddleduck.



There were other passerby, too, the most charming of whom were a posse of Japanese foreign exchange students. They scarcely spoke English, but there was ample pointing, laughing, cooing, and photo ops. I like to imagine people looking at this small storefront halfway around the world. What a wide palette of experiences and challenges this work brings! Very grateful for the opportunities.

Next up is Cloth & Crown, the clothing boutique on the other side of Red Rooster, which requests borders resembling cascades of succulents. Another fun gig, surely involving more fascinating company, both inside and out!

P.S. A lot of you, especially out-of-towners, asked for a full view of “Water Fable,” the piece that was in the ZACC’s Art Activism show, so here it is:


The opening was fun: a lively crowd filled the ZACC that night, gazing at the artworks and visiting the companion show of art against domestic violence. The rooms brimmed with improvisational dance, wine, music, and t-shirt silk-screening. Hence my splattered old paint shirt now sports a snazzy logo… though I realize that I gave it to Patricia inside-out. Ah well: that means it will look just right reflected in glass!