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!

Breaking the rules, and a gift from the Big Sky

Seven other students and I are taking a couple of months of watercolor classes with local artist Bob Phinney. He started as a freehand signpainter, so I feel a connection to that. He’s a fan of working fast and loose, sprinkling grainy stuff into your gesso, and knowing the rules… but also knowing when to break them. The other painters bring talent, encouragement, community, and a fondness for purple. Three cheers for the Lifelong Learning Center; Missoula is lucky to have one!

My first piece, still in progress...
Study in progress: un hombre cubano, with a stogie and a bass, da un paseo.

On the signpainting front, I joined the local barter network, WeTrade, because I believe in supporting alternative currencies and independent businesses. (Also, folks may be more likely to hire a plucky signpainter if they don’t have to pay her in cold cash on the spot.) Here’s a taste of the Cajun holiday art that I did as a trade with Café Zydeco, if you haven’t yet seen it on Facebook:

zydeco lobster

zydeco wreath lobster

zydeco balls

An uncommonly bad photo of one of my doodles
Blurry photo of a meditative doodle

Burnout is a concern, especially after several weeks of regular work plus art work on top. I am being gentle, taking days to just doodle and paint leisurely. Figuring out this livelihood and lifestyle includes making up new rules, not only breaking established ones: what to do next, what is important. It necessitates a bump in trust, in faith… which is good!

And fortunately, I’ve had little victories to keep me going. Some are self-created, like using goofy emojis to check off items on my art-to-do list. And others are external, like landing gigs: the next half-warm day we get, you’ll find me painting bluebirds and heart-shaped ribbons on the glass of a fine jewelry store smack in the heart of downtown. I so appreciate the people who hear my spiel and say, “Sure!”

Thanks to Janice
Like Janice, who hired me to do her hair salon in a fun, Art Deco font. Thanks, Janice!

And one more little victory: the Zootown Arts Community Center, in collaboration with the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, accepted one of my paintings in its Art Activism show.

Details, and more art, soon!