Big Eyes & Bad Guys

Big EyesMy love for Margaret Keane’s Big-Eyed Waifs began with Tim Burton’s movie “Big Eyes” about her tumultuous life. I appreciated that he didn’t paint her as totally non-complicit. Humans are complicated creatures and are never all good or all bad.

Margaret wanted to make art in a time where female artists weren’t being taken seriously. Walter waltzes in with his big personality and does what she can’t. He hits the pavement and markets the pieces, and markets himself. As a man, I’m sure it was easier for him to do so.

Once upon a time a college art professor told me that talent only goes so far. No matter how good an artist is, no one is going to come knocking on their door to buy their art. To make a living, an artist will need to sell their work and on some level sell themselves. A buyer doesn’t just want something pretty to hang on their wall. They want a story, the artist’s story.

Tim Burton did an excellent job with the film and if you haven’t seen it yet, you should! So inspired by Margaret Keane’s soulful eyes, I decided to paint a portrait of my son Judah who has big beautiful eyes. Coincidentally Margaret Keane was inspired to paint children by her daughter.

From start to finish it probably took me two years to complete — being a mom of a busy 4 year old boy and the birth of a new baby kept me busy, so I only worked on it a little at a time.

As it was nearing completion, I had a work incident (where I’m a boss) that painted me the villain. Being a mom I was used to being the bad guy, but that day, that moment, I was frustrated with my bad rap.

Was I really a bad guy? I am direct and honest… sensitive people might call this tactless. I accept that, but I never intentionally hurt people. I don’t hold grudges or seek vengeance when I feel I’ve been wronged. I move on and do my best to let it go. Time and energy are precious these days I’d rather not waste it on negativity.

Me drawing on my iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil.

As I contemplated my villain status an idea struck. I’m a fan of a good villain with a compelling backstory. As a tween I watched Bram Stoker’s Dracula at least 100 times. My heart broke for the cursed man who tragically lost the love of his life.

Already loving how my son Judah’s portrait was turning out I decided to create villains with the signature Margaret Keane big eyes. I purchased a new iPad pro and Apple Pencil which is an artist mama’s dream come true. Its compact size makes it easy to pull out here and there when I can find the time with little to no fuss.

Disney’s Maleficent, Verson I & Verson II

My first Bitty Baddy was Disney’s iconic Maleficent. Still learning the iPad software she was a little rough, but I could see the potential for a series.

Cruella de Vil
Disney’s Cruella de Vil

Second was Cruella with her two-toned hair holding a scared dalmatian puppy. As I created them I often considered their origin story. If they didn’t have one established sometimes I’d write them. I would lay in bed and wonder how life twisted them into villains.Eventually I did Donald Trump who I, as a bleeding-heart liberal democrat, consider a villain. As I worked on him I considered that to some people, he’s a hero, and wondered how much of villainy is perspective.

Donald Trump
Bitty Baddies Donald Trump, Commander & Tweeter

I did a presentation for a girl scout troop and they questioned my choice of Edward Scissorhands. They said he wasn’t a villain and while I agreed with them I pointed out that the townspeople thought he was and the movie ends with him living alone in the mansion on the hill. They weren’t convinced so I asked them if they knew who George Washington was? They did, so I asked them if they thought he was a hero. They said of course he was. I then asked them to consider how the British felt about George Washington during the revolution. To them he was a rebel who was stealing their land. To them, he was a villain. They were silent a moment so I took this opportunity to lecture them a bit about their parents who can sometimes seem like “bad guys.” When parents make decisions they have their children’s best interests at heart and sometimes that means seeming the villain and saying “no” if their child is potentially engaging in activities that could put them at risk.

To date I’ve done almost forty Bitty Baddies. I plan to participate in various Michigan Comic Cons. I make art prints, postcards, pendants and pins that I sell at the Raven Café in Port Huron, Michigan. I also have most of them available on REDBUBBLE for purchase.

Taking Action Instead of Being Anxious

“RBG’s death fills me with an fear and anxiousness I haven’t felt since the last presidential election. I’m plagued with the same question – Why does it seem like evil is winning?”

I posted this to my Facebook the day after. I’d been reticent about looking at my feed or reading the news. I didn’t want to feel hopeless.

A dear friend of mine encouraged me to to take action so I didn’t feel so anxious and helpless, so I decided to make some art for the cause and donate all profits to the Biden 2020 campaign. I made my first donation last night, and let me tell you, it was therapeutic.

REDBUBBLE RBG Sales – 20% Commission:
2x Greeting – 1.01
2x Mask – 4.16
4X Glossy Sticker – 1.37
1x Hoodie 5.81
TOTAL = 12.27

I only make 20% commission on Redbubble sales and I wish I could do more.

In fact, fame has never sounded so good… but not for me. I like being anonymous.

Every once in a while I make something that someone famous will respond to. I float around for a day knowing someone who’s art I admire liked something I did. It’s a good feeling.

So, it would be super awesome if a politically like-minded famous person helped promote this endeavor.

Or, if possible, I could just donate the art directly to the Biden Campaign for them fundraise with. That way they get the most bang for their buck.

Then I would know that I helped make the world a better place. Isn’t that the ultimate goal of any artist?

REDBUBBLE LINKS: Ruth Bader Ginsberg | RGB, Most Fervent Wish

Black Panther

As I scroll through all the Chadwick Boseman condolences I’m seeing political figures saying good bye too, and occasionally the response is “Stop using this man’s tragedy to further your political aspirations. His death is not political.” But I think it is and here’s why.

When “Black Panther” came out I read all of they hype of a strong black superhero and how important it was for the black community. I was stoked for them, but I didn’t truly understand what it meant until I decided to go to a movie showing of Avengers: Endgame one night when I was out of town at a convention in Novi.

Yes I will go to movies by myself – if it’s something I really want to see. I’d been at the comic con all day and every other person brought up the movie to me and I had to warn them off that I had yet to see it.

So I went. I found a theatre down the road from the convention hall and found the perfect seat. 3 rows back, dead center. It was packed with folks, but there was a solitary seat in between two black couples. They looked at me sideways when I sat down, but whatever, I was there to watch the movie. The audience was more diverse than what is common in the town where I’m from. As the movie got going I was 100% engaged in the story. The people around me disappeared… until Black Panther came on the screen. The audience erupted in cheers. This reaction was new to me and I was struck by how important it was for this group of predominantly black people to see a hero up there that represented them. I was in awe, but also a bit ashamed by my white privelege. There were many heroes on screen who looked like me.

With the Black Lives Matter movement and an administration that doesn’t recognize or even acknowledge systemic racism – the loss of Chadwick Boseman is political. He was important to the black community. I experienced it and felt the weight of their love for his character.

I’m glad those I will vote for recognize Chadwick Bosman’s importance to the black community.

Rest in Power #blackpanther

Dreaming of Hell

The dome was about the size of a football field. It was filled with hazy red water. I stood in the center with others like me. We were in what seemed to be old-timey scuba suits.

We couldn’t hear one another, but it was obvious we were all frightened. What was happening? Where were we?

Then, one of spotted the monsters and their face changed to a whole new level of terror. All around the outside of us there were these faceless black forms running circuits – as if on a track. Where their face should have been, there was just a gaping maw filled with teeth.

We cowered together. Weighted down by our iron scuba gear we couldn’t swim and it didn’t matter anyway because somehow we knew this dome had no exit.

We waited, always terrified. Sometimes people’s scuba suits failed and they suffocated in them or drowned when they pulled their mask off in panic. Sometimes the people just seemed to give up and take off their mask voluntarily, and others ran into the mass of moving monsters only to be trampled to death. Every once in a while the monsters circling us would indiscriminately grab a person and devour them in front of us. Whenever anyone died I always felt the awful emotion of relief – thankful it wasn’t me.

New people appeared, so the tank was never empty, and sometimes they lasted minutes, other days, and still other years. The most horrifying thing about this place is that you never knew how long you had. You didn’t know how you’d go. The only thing you could be certain of, is that you would fall eventually.

I had this dream more than ten years ago and it’s never faded. As I reflect on it today (as I write this) I don’t think it was a biblical hell I was dreaming about, but rather all of humanity’s existence.

Our scuba suits represent out bodies, we don’t know how long they’ll last us. In the grand scheme of things, they could go any moment. The monsters are the perils that could befall us – accidents or to be murdered. We know the dangers exist and are literally all around us as we drive in cars or engage in online dating.

The fact that we can’t communicate with each other, in the suits in the tank, I think represents how lonely we all feel knowing we’re all going to die someday, and are powerless to help save each other from that ultimate fate.

This painting feature the monsters as I remember them.

Lovable E.T., A Bad Guy?

“E.T. Is NOT a bad guy.” my husband says when he arrives home to see me scribbling furiously on the iPad.

“Depends on your politics. For some people all aliens are bad guys.” I reply

“That’s a stretch.” He says.

At the very core of this art series I’m asking ‘what is the nature of villainy?’ Yes, it’s a cheeky style, but there are deep thoughts to be thunk if you dig down enough.

We live in a divisive time and illegal immigrants (or aliens) are, for many folks of the republican persuasion, unwanted and their hardships evoke zero sympathy. But every person is someone’s baby. We all want a better life for our children.

The bodies of Salvadoran migrant Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, are seen June 24, 2019, after they drowned in the Rio Grande in Matamoro, Mexico, while trying to reach the United States. (CNS/Reuters)

This photo above depicts two humans who died tragically and their illegal “alien“ status does not make, them, or their tragedy less profound.

Not convinced? Consider how we treat the aliens among us? As I drew E.T. I marveled at how his wrinkly skin was so much like an elephant’s.

In most places in the world we no longer have to hunt for food… but now we do it for sport.

Elephants are intelligent animals who mourn their dead, but because we can’t communicate with them they are considered lesser beings.

Most Christian religions claim animals do not have souls. They exist only for our use.

What if the day arrived and we were able to communicate with some of the more intelligent species on our planet? Would they be given rights? How do you imagine they’d feel about humanity?

Who are the real villains?

BITTY BADDIES E.T. by Jody Parmann

The Questionable Nature of Daisy Darkling

Here’s my first kid’s book and let me tell you… it’s been a long and hard learning experience.

My first foray into this medium I would say is about 50% successful.

I love how it turned out because the story is personal to me. I was, and remain, a “Daisy Darkling” – a little dark, sometimes misunderstood, but definitely not a villain.

That said, I don’t think this one has a wide ranging appeal that I can sell to publishers. For me to make those kind of efforts I’ll have to come up with something different… a genius tale with tighter illustrations.

When it comes to illustrating books, I didn’t love every moment of it… but I liked well enough to keep working at it for other stories I have simmering.

I’m going to print a copy for my kids, and perhaps one for the Raven Cafe. I’d love for folks to take a look and let me know if I missed any glaring typos before I do…

Ahem, Lee Ann, Bonnie, Tara and Squee….

“Daisy Darkling” PDF Download

An Incredible Tale

This story began in 2017 when I happened upon the Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale. I, like most of the world, sat spellbound watching this brutal dystopian society’s chilling story delivered, as if through a lens of a Johannes Vermeer’s painting.

I went on to listen to the Audible recording of the book, narrated by Clare Danes. I wondered if I would be disappointed. Ticking off things the series already covered. Perhaps frustrated with the differences. But I was moved by the language the author Margaret Atwood used. It would be elegant almost poetic words smashed against harsh realities of this dystopic society.

Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.

Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaids Tale”

I was enthralled, so I set out to consume all forms. I watched the 1990 movie by the same name. I found it pretty 80s-rific, but I appreciated that they gave it a happy ending.

Somewhere in all this, I was given an old paperback copy by my friend, and co-worker, Carol Mason. Before it was put up safely up on a shelf, my then one-year old teething daughter gnawed on the edge of the book and tore out some pages.

Books are sacred to me, and destroying them is blasphemous. In its current unfortunate condition, I decided to use it in a new art piece that I had percolating in my brain.

Over the course of a year I tore apart the book and dyed pages. Though I hadn’t completely flushed out the composition I knew I needed the various shades of the following colors:

Red: cherry juice, ink and clothing dye

Skin Tones: coffee, marker, clothing dye and bleach

Black: ash, charcoal, ink and marker

It was a process with a learning curve. Once dyed, I had to dry them and keep the flat. Cookie drying racks worked well but they also left lines. As I worked with the various materials, I felt like a witch making magic.

Once the dying was complete the pages did sit around for a bit. As a mom of two little people, the stars had to align for me to make what I lovingly call “messy art”, because I know once I begin I’ll be consumed.

I began in earnest in August of 2018.

As it is with art-making, I was singularly focused once I began, but this particular medium takes time and patience since there are layers of paint, paper and modge-podge. Altogether, I estimate that it took a month to come together.

“The Handmaids” by Jody Parmann

The dyed pages from the book were especially important to the overall message. It’s a protest piece. Women in Gilead were not allowed to read or write.

It’s composition is deliberately reminiscent of the iconic “Wicked” poster. I wanted to highlight the idea that the words women’s use with each other a double-edged blade. They have the capacity cut deeply, as with gossip, but also have the power to lift women up.

Support from honorable women have made all the difference in my life. My girlfriend JillIan Harmer helped me get out of an abusive relationship. Her friendship made me feel worthy of love and kindness. Another friend, Tara Russel’s influence helped me choose a path of honor when I could have easily chose not to. I wanted to know I deserved her friendship and respect. I wanted to be a better human like her.

I got lucky that these women came into my life when I desperately needed them. They were the voice in my ear, “Nolite Bastardes Carborundum.” Translation: “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

Today, I’m blessed with a wonderful husband, amazing children, a livelihood I love and girlfriends that bring lightness and laughter to my life. I’ve come very far from the broken girl I once was.

The finished piece hangs at the Raven Café and I sell prints of it.

Raven Café, Port Huron

The Book Keeper, in Sarnia, ON, owned by my friend Susan Chamberlain (daughter of my other dear friend, Carol Henry) also stocks prints of “The Handmaids”.

Fast forward to summer 2019 when I see that The Book Keeper is hosting a Margaret Atwood author event. I reserved a ticket post haste and twenty-four hours later it was sold out.

There was discussion that they might sell prints of “The Handmaids” at the event, but ultimately the decision was made that only books should be sold at an “author” event.

Five months later the day of the event arrives, and my Facebook messenger pops up. It’s Susan telling me that she’s going to gift a framed print of my piece to Margaret Atwood after the event and she’s wondering if I would get up and say a few words about it…

I am one of the 75% of the population that has a fear of speaking in public. I am content to sit in the audience and don’t aspire to perform. I appreciate those who can and do. They’re a magical breed. My husband is one those people.

I ask Susan via messenger “How many people will be there?”

“Not many.”

“Only 700.”

Despite my terror, I didn’t take long to agree to do it. It was such an incredible honor to be asked and what an opportunity to share my art with people.

While I’m sure Susan felt like her offer was last minute, it was actually perfect timing. Afterall, it was just going to be a short speech – so I had time to prepare, but not too much time to be nervous and over-think it.

I practiced the speech out loud by myself. I felt ridiculous.

It was at this point I recalled that my husband (one of those magical performing humans) had told me on more than one occasion that he thinks I’d be great on NPR’s “The Moth”. High praise from him. He thinks I can do this.

My girlfriend Gwyn Atkinson-Lewis and I drove over to Sarnia together. On the way, she assured me that I’d do great and said “You deserve this. What an affirmation of your talent.” To which I replied, “Mostly I feel like I’m incredibly fortunate to know Susan and Carol (on so many levels).”

We met up for dinner with our friend Carol. I let them read what I’d prepared and they said it looked good.

Sitting in the front row I thought for sure my mind would be lost in mental preparation, but Margaret Atwood’s wit and sense of humor were such, that I was completely engaged right up until I was called up on stage.

I prefaced my speech with the fact that public speaking was not my thing and that I’d been asked only that morning to speak AFTER Margaret Atwood, so I’d be doing my best…

I’m from Port Huron (across the river) and as a female citizen of the United States my hope is to inspire women to support each other in these uncertain times that we live in. Women’s rights, much like American democracy as a whole, are at risk of being undermined by the current Trump administration.

The original piece was made from the actual pages of the book “The Handmaid’s Tale”. They were dyed with cherry juice, coffee, charcoal, ash, ink and marker. I considered how the written word had become illegal in Gilead and used it as an ironic medium. I then collaged the pieces together in a composition that, to me, is reminiscent of the iconic promotional poster for the Broadway musical “Wicked”.

My thought is that the words women use with one another are a double-edged blade- they have the ability to cut deeply (such as with gossip) or to lift each other up. When women are oppressed in societies or their freedom threatened, I can see only one way forward for us. We must stand together. Lift each other up. Nolite bastardes carborundurum. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

The audience of 700 cheered.

Women stopped me to take pictures with me.

Americans commiserated about the Trump administration.

People told me that I did well up there.

Amidst all that, I asked Margaret Atwood if she’d sign the original for me. She graciously obliged.

It was an incredible night two years in the making.

As if that wasn’t amazing enough, two days later Margaret Atwood shared this photo on her Instagram account.

Instagram Post


A Return

My recent Bitty Baddy “Rose the Hat” is a return to an old practice of mine. As a kid my favorite people to draw were the ones I read about in my books. The author’s words would paint a picture in my mind and I would go on to draw their characters as I imagined them.

I recently read Doctor Sleep by Stephen King and I was moved by his description of Rose the Hat.

– A cloud of black hair

– A top hat precariously perched on her head in an angle that defies gravity

– Slanted blue eyes

– Pale skin

– Incredible beauty

So here she is as a Bitty Baddy, because even she wasn’t born bad.

Bad Bawd

Do you know this bad bawd? Back up, do you know what a “bawd” is? It’s a woman in charge of a brothel. A female pimp.

Lydia Quigley is one bad bawd in the Hulu series “Harlots” and the depravities she facilitates are nothing short of monstrous, but before you judge her, consider the following quote from season three…

“My father took my innocence when I was 7 years old. The procession of men began with him. I became what those men made me. A vessel of pain and in response I wrought that pain on everyone who crossed my path.”

Lydia Quigley, Harlots

So here’s my question… Is villainy born of trauma, somehow less evil? Or are bad beginnings no excuse for bad behavior?

#lydiaquigley #badbawd #villain #bittybaddies #harlots

The Magic of Comic Cons

I’ve done art shows, and I’ve done craft shows, but comic cons are my favorite because parents get to be kids with their kids!

Side by side, you’ll see offerings that appeal to 5 year olds and 50 year olds. You see parent/kid cosplays. They frolic about with glee as they pass a stall with Pokémon and then one featuring Freddy and Jason. They share stories of their youth as they come across playthings they had when they were a kid.

It’s beautiful. It’s downright magical.