The Stories Behind the Pictures
The Jewish Eye Calendar of Art 5776/2016
Here are the stories behind all the images in the calendar. These are written to augment the captions printed in the calendar itself.
VALLEY OF THE CROSS, SUNSET
Elul 5775 -Tishrei 5776/September 2015
If you look at my landscape paintings, you might notice one of my common themes is trees, plants, or flowers in the foreground. Large natural objects, when viewed up close, create an organic frame through which a distant landscape is seen. The near is set in relation to the far. These trees in a park in Jerusalem made a familiar portal, as the Mediterranean hills seem to share a few species of conifers with my upstate New York home.
On my first trip to Israel, I walked down into this valley, named in Hebrew Emeq Hamatzlevah – the Valley of the Cross. The air was parched, and the white pages of my sketchbook baked in the sun as I worked quickly, sitting on the scratchy earth. (Notice once again, the near is set in relation to the far in the form of two olive trees.) I finished this pencil drawing of the Valley of the Cross on the long flight home:
Four years later, I stood on the rim of the same valley, looking down. To walk around Jerusalem is to see things from many angles. The topography gives radically changing views as the city reveals itself, piece by piece.
Legend holds that the fortress-monastery that stands like a sentinel in this valley was built to commemorate the place where the tree used to make Jesus Christ’s cross was cut down. This 1000-year-old building looks as aged as the land itself. What takes a century or two for nature to take back in North America takes twenty times as long here. In Israel, history has shaped the land with its own raw material – the pale, enduring limestone known as Jerusalem stone. After centuries and millennia, architecture that was once entirely manmade reverts back to natural forms. The Monastery of the Cross stood as a sculpture of time in this valley of olive trees and rosemary.
This painting was my first use of some new, flat paintbrushes I recently acquired. They appeared to me in a dream – a dream that took place in Jerusalem – so I bought a few. I think the square-cut bristles served the architectural angles of the buildings well.
I’ll always remember this spot fondly. Maybe the next time I’m in Jerusalem, I’ll see the Valley of the Cross from yet another angle.
THE BINDING OF ISAAC
Tishrei-Cheshvan 5776 / October 2015
All my life I’ve painted in gouache – those water-based pigments that can perpetually be re-wetted. I bought my first set in an old art supply shop somewhere off the Rue de Rivoli in Paris. I fell in love with those twelve tiny tubes instantly. Later I started dabbling in acrylics, which had more covering power for larger works. I found these two mediums sufficient, and thought I was set for life.
Until a few years ago, when I began to crave the richness and viscosity of oils. Like craving a food you know will satisfy a vital need, I knew I had to start learning this medium. When the new water-based oils presented the option of using a non-toxic solvent, I jumped for it.
My new set of water-based oils sat in my bedroom for a long time before I used them. I needed the right subject at the right time in order to begin. My instincts told me to start by allowing some of the canvas to show through, as I have often done when painting on paper. I waited. It wasn’t long before this image presented itself in my mind’s eye (how else can I describe inspiration?), and as sure Abraham said hineni (“here am I”), I took up my brush and began.
The story of the binding of Isaac or Akeida in Hebrew has been depicted throughout the ages. I join a long line of artists in rendering my version. My desire, as a beginning oil painter, was to keep it simple – and an angel, an ethereal messenger of God, is a good subject to understate. To set this numinous sky creature against the landscape of Mt. Moriah was challenging. I wanted the whole scene to be spacious and light, with ample white canvas showing through and plenty of transparent color.
So that’s how my first oil painting came about. I also learned to sing this passage of Torah, by learning the melodic tropes that are assigned to each word in the Hebrew Bible. This was very challenging, but equally rewarding. Breaking new ground felt like the right thing to do with this story. To both paint and sing such an ancient tale is truly to commune with it. I also teach this story to my 4th-grade Judaic students every autumn when the parshah, or Torah portion, comes around. Our class discussions have been rich indeed. Young minds are eager to question the authority of God, and to explore the message of an angel.
Yet when it comes to the Akeida, there is no final interpretation. The story is meant to kindle discussion and debate, and so it has, throughout the ages – and so it will continue to do. It is a story of faith; of sacrifice; of free will and divine instruction. It is a story that affirms the preciousness of children, and of life itself, in a time when human and animal sacrifice were still common. Judaism was forging itself into the world’s first religion with a moral god who was intimately concerned with human affairs and shaping our human character. God is even depicted as flawed, like humans – and as humans, we are permitted to question God – but only in keeping with faith. Clinging to the good is the underlying message, one that resounds throughout Jewish history. The Akeida is so axiomatic that it is told a second time each year, on the occasion of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
The original of this painting is for sale. It measures 20″ wide. The canvas edge is deep, and is painted with a few lines of the story in Hebrew, from the Torah portion Vayera. Priced upon request by emailing me.
And yes, there is a ram in the bush.
Still Life with Yarzheit Candle
Cheshvan-Kislev 5776 / November 2015
Still-lifes are the great equalizers of modern art. By “modern”, I mean Impressionism andPost-Impressionism, as that is generally accepted as the beginning of modern art. The Impressionists andPost-Impressionists were the founding fathers of a new tradition that rebelled against the rigid conventions of Salon painting, as well as earlier painting traditions that epitomized royalty and religion. The Post-Impressionists busted these stultifying restrictions, planting the seeds of modern art.
It all began with still-lifes. The art-viewing public of 19th-century Paris was shocked by renderings of ordinary objects – as if they were of equal status to a queen or a nobleman! The adulation of mundane objects brought art into the common home, conferring respect on ordinary daily life and the common man heretofore reserved for aristocracy and clergy. To give a fruit, a flower, or any common object equal treatment was unthinkable in those times. But everything in a still-life is equally alive. It was part of a massive shift in the very purpose of art.
With this in mind, I set up a still-life with my grandmother’s photo. No less vivid than the pumpkin on my table or the foliage of a houseplant, she is lush with youthful adventure, her spirit as ruby red as the silk scarf in the foreground. Oh the pearls and lace she wore! Elsie was a well-known Vaudeville singer in her youth, who shared the stage with Mae West and was allegedly the first woman ever to smoke a cigarette on stage. A dubious honor, to be sure – thankfully, she did not take up the habit, and lived well into her eighties.
Nana Elsie was really with me that day. It is wonderful to sit with a photo, a candle, and the memories they bring alive over the course of several hours. After the day of her yarzheit, it took several more painting sessions to bring this piece to completion.
I accept commissions to paint still-life portraits, if anyone wants a loved one commemorated this way. It doesn’t have to be done on their yarzheit – but it sure does add a lot if it is. Send me an email if you’re interested.
Kislev-Tevet 5776 / December 2015
The hunting cabin depicted here sits on the northern edge of the Catskill Mountains. Ten minutes of climbing the steep, wooded mountainside quickly yields a panoramic view to the north: a patchwork of fields and forests rolling toward Albany. Hunting here is synonymous with hiking, as we made our way on foot up a crude logging trail. Deer are sparse in this terrain; one must walk the land often in order to see one. Bear tracks are seen here too, along with coyote, fox, and wild turkey. Here and there, an old hunting stand crumbles in a forked trunk. The wind comes in surges through the bare trees, audible at a distance as it rushes toward us – a breathing ocean of air. Then, silence and the twittering of a bird. Nature admits us humbly into her wild sanctuary: a privilege and a welcome respite from the grind of modern life.
In this place, it is easy to find HaMakom – המקום – one of several Hebrew words for the divine Omnipresence, or “Placeness”, the substance of Creation. This presence is palpable in a landscape that is home to wild creatures. To participate in the cycle of life and death as a hunter, as my ancestors did on a regular basis, brings me closer to them – the ancient Israelites who hunted and slaughtered, skinned and butchered, sacrificed and feasted on wild and domestic animals. Though we were thousands of miles from the mountains of Sinai, the deserts of Judea, the fields and groves of Samaria – as we lit the menorah that night I felt connected to that faraway time and place through the vast and pristine air. The Hanukah candles seemed to push back the night. The dark forest spoke of all that has been sown in the far-flung Diaspora over centuries of exile and migration. I thought of the halutzim (pioneers) of our parents’ generation who had worked the land in Eretz Yisrael. Here, we have worked the land in our own way, growing vegetables, foraging plants, and hunting meat.
I sought to preserve the moment in this painting, which is more like an illustration, with the mountains proportioned in a manner contrived to show the night sky; in reality, the top of the ridge was far beyond our view. The blessings of the Festival of Light reached all the way to this little cabin in the mountain valley, where Creation still dominates our human presence – and a Jew can still disappear in the forest.
The original painting of Hunters’ Hanukah is for Sale! The canvas measures 14″ wide. Please inquire if you’re interested.
Tevet-Sh’vat 5776 / January 2016
In the Hebrew calendar, the Ten Commandments make their first appearance in the Torah reading Yitro, which falls in January this year, or the Hebrew month of Sh’vat. The “ten sayings”, as they are known in Hebrew, are pictured here as a painted decalogue – which translates from the Greek deka plus logos to mean “the ten principles of divine reason”.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to decalogue design. Maybe it’s because of the historic role the Ten Commandments played in ancient times, revolutionizing the relationship between divine spirit and human morality. Maybe it’s because they’ve touched us all throughout the ages, woven into the very foundation of the civilization we call home. The founding fathers of the American Constitution had these ancient tenets very much in mind as they forged our modern democracy.
There’s something very interesting about painting a sculpture. That’s what this image is: a painted amalgam of so many sculpted decalogues. Some seven years ago, a wonderful exhibit opened at the American Museum of Folk Art in NYC which had a big influence on my art. I saw it three times, and did numerous sketches in the museum. The exhibit was titled Gilded Lions & Jeweled Horses: The Synagogue to the Carousel, about the master artisans who carved and painted the arks, tombstones, and Jewish iconography of Eastern Europe. Later, these artisans emigrated to America, where they carved the first merry-go-round animals. What a transformation of context! I saw dozens of decalogues, arks, and tombstones carved in wood and stone – replete with animals, birds, and plants – and dozens of carousel creatures clearly sculpted by the same hands. The lions of traditional Ashkenazi synagogues in Eastern Europe were reborn in America on the carousels of New York and Chicago.
Why convert these old icons into flat images? To this painter’s eye, it begged to be done. Re-rendered in color, the images my great grandparents grew up with transmute once again. To depart even further from the solidity of a carving, I left some of the edges ambiguous . . . the sky penetrates these lions, leaving space for suggestion. What I strive to suggest is the positive intention or kavanah that still infuses the Ten Commandments with relevance today.
Alas, the American Museum of Folk Art has since closed. But that exhibit’s mark on my artwork is – well, carved in stone.
The original painting of Decalogue is for SALE! It’s oil on canvas, and measures 24″ wide. Please inquire by email if you’re interested.
THE DEATH OF JACOB
Sh’vat – Adar 1 5776 / February 2016
Back in February, I wrote a blog post about two studies I did for “The Death of Jacob”. By the end of April, one of those studies had become an oil painting, pictured above. This painting took over ten sittings to bring to completion.
But the idea really began six or eight years ago. Every winter, the Torah portion Va-y’chi (“And he lived”) comes up, taking its turn in the cycle of weekly passages read from the Torah by Jews all over the world. Every year, I’ve felt compelled as a teacher of Judaic studies to reread this passage. And each time, images start germinating in my mind’s eye. It’s that kind of story.
Last winter, I decided to finally bring at least one of those images to fruition. As often happens, one quickly led to another.
Va-y’chi tells of the great patriarch’s final hours. Surrounded by his twelve sons on his death bed, Jacob – or Israel ( “God-wrestler) – speaks to each of them in turn. To Simon and Levi, the old man says what he chose not to utter long ago in the height of their destructive youth. Israel gives special words of praise to his son Judah, who he calls a lion, whose strength and fortitude enabled the old man to survive a famine and reunite with his most beloved son – Joseph, now a prince in Egypt – upon whom he lingers last and longest.
I like the side view of the twelve sons in this pencil drawing, and Jacob’s skyward gaze. But this approach was missing something. I tried again, this time sketching from an aerial view. From this perspective, more meaning could be conveyed: Jacob became ethereal in his form, his body floating, his robe a place for billowing sky and rolling meadows, the space between his sons a place for all those animals and symbols. This design could become like a weaving in which Israel takes his place as he is “gathered to his kin”.
Jacob’s only daughter, Dina, joins this picture, too – for though the Torah does not mention her name in this passage, it seems only right that she should be there. I’m grateful to be part of a tradition that allows for artistic interpretation!
In the end I favored the second perspective, from above. Bit by bit, the characters were fleshed out with color, bringing life to their skin and light to their faces. From the center of the painting, light emits from Jacob as if he were a source of life itself – even as he passes out of life. Like a transparent portal between worlds, Jacob’s inner light shines on.
The original painting of “The Death of Jacob” is for sale. It’s oil on canvas, and measures 20″ wide. Please inquire by email if you’re interested.
TZFAT WINDOW (II)
Adar 1 – Adar 2, 5776 / March 2016
I love Tzfat. Also known as Safed, this ancient city nestled in the mountains of the northern Galilee is the highest city in Israel, and the birthplace of Kabbalah, or Jewish mysticism. As with any Mediterranean city, walking the streets and staircases of Tzfat yields constantly changing views. I could not decide which one to feature in this painting, so I combined several into one. I especially loved the windows and doors of Tzfat – old and new, arched and square – and have done several paintings of this theme:
These paintings also mark a milestone in my work as an artist, as decades ago when I was just starting out, my very first series of paintings was of the windows of Nice in the south of France. The Mediterranean landscape still speaks to my soul today.
Tzfat is considered one of the four holy cities of Judaism, along with Jerusalem, Hebron, and Tiberias. In Tzfat, Sephardic Jews found refuge from the flames of the Inquisition that expelled over 350,000 of their kin from 15th-century Spain, ending the “golden age” of tolerance and coexistence that had reigned on the Iberian Peninsula for centuries. Here, overlooking the Sea of Galilee, great rabbis and Torah scholars walked the stone alleyways that were painted blue to signify God’s presence. A millennia and a half earlier, the great tanna’im or 1st-century CE rabbis also found refuge in these wrinkled mountains of wild olives and figs. These were the first rabbis, who preserved the Torah in the wake of the fall of Jerusalem to Rome. Still earlier, legend holds that the prophet Hosea and the biblical Chanah are buried in Tzfat’s famous cemetery that tumbles down the sun-baked slope outside the old city. I did several studies there of the ancient gravestones, one hot July day. It was too hot to do anything more than a quick pencil sketch:
As you can see, these graves are aged by time into curved and irregular shapes. They do not seem entirely manmade anymore. So much history has unfolded here, the very clouds seem to float on the passage of time. I am humbled and challenged to render images of this place – where painting nature is synonymous with painting history.
Adar 2 – Nisan 5776 / April 2016
Last year, I reached out to a number of synagogues across the United States in an effort to market my calendar. I was surprised to discover how many congregations are led by women rabbis. It makes sense, as “rabbi” means “teacher”, and women are natural teachers, as well as musicians, scholars, and midwives to the passages in life people and families pass through. There are at least four women rabbis in my rural area, each with her own strengths. My own congregation in Woodstock, NY is blessed to have Rabbi Aura Ahuvia in our midst, and it is she who inspired this painting. Not only does Aura have the timeless look of our Biblical foremothers, she is an eloquent guitarist and a gifted singer.
This painting was very time-consuming. I took photos along the way, and thought about it a lot. The image does not only speak for women. It speaks for all rabbis who are musicians, which is ever increasing. I rejoice in Judaism’s ability to evolve with the times while at the same time maintaining its backbone of tradition. Music brings people together, and gives form to emotion. It heals wounds, steadies fears, and inspires hope. Judicious use of music both enlivens gatherings and gives solace.
And who are the people around this rabbi? They are the sea of humanity, near and far, past and present. Each individual is carried by waves of memory – blessings and hardships both personal and collective. How does a rabbi steady her own emotions, amidst so much intensity? Does she bring forth music from or for the people around her? I had a hard time deciding which word to use when I wrote the caption for this painting. Ultimately I chose the word “from”. What do you think?
The seed of this painting was a 6″ wide pencil sketch in a small drawing pad that I carried around in my daypack. I did this drawing on top of a mountain somewhere . . . where or why, I can’t recall. It came to me, and when the pad became too shabby to use anymore, I tore this drawing out and kept it. It sat on a shelf for seven years before the idea for The Rabbi came to me, compelling me to expand the image. A small painted study ensued, and then the final oil painting which measures 30″ wide. You never know what little sketch will become the basis for a future painting!
TWO GIRLS, ARMENIAN QUARTER
Nisan-Iyyar 5776 / May 2016
In the Old City of Jerusalem, sound and light have a special quality. Footsteps echo off stone, giving a different cadence to human movement. Stone alleyways appear polished in light, changing hues as they change direction. Every cobblestone, every arrow slit, window, and domed roof seem to stand in dialogue with each other across time. An archway has another archway embedded in it from a prior century. The newer one may be over two thousand years old! – like a fossil within a fossil. History unfolds here from so long ago, it is beyond our human grasp. The Jewish tradition has endured since the time of the Assyrians, Egyptians, and Philistines, all of whom rose and fell during Jerusalem’s formative centuries in the early second millennium BCE. According to The Jewish Virtual Library, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice during its long history, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times. The oldest part of the city was settled in the 4th millennium BCE, making Jerusalem one of the oldest cities in the world. The Armenian Quarter, established in the 14th century CE, comprises one sixth of the Old City.
How can I even begin to fathom who has passed here before me?
Streets like this appear in my dreams. This one had the branches of an olive tree draping over its high walls. In Israel, the line between natural and man-made blurs. These stones are so old, they have almost returned to their original state. Yet they continue to endure, as some types of Jerusalem stone – limestone and dolomite quarried from the mountains in and around the city – actually harden with exposure to the atmosphere. The same type of stone is still used in construction today. With colors ranging from pale ochre to lavender to pink, Jerusalem stone is an intriguing subject for painters. Both color and texture present challenges. I consider it an ongoing study . . . this wasn’t my first effort, and it won’t be my last.
THE VEILED HISTORY
Iyyar-Sivan 5776 / June 2016
This painting grew out of my personal research of my Jewish heritage. Until my mid-forties, I thought of myself simply as American, with Jewish roots in eastern Europe. Then my work as an illustrator led me to learn the stories of the Torah, and for the first time I was inspired to delve into my Jewish heritage. Beginning with Abba Eban’s documentary film Civilization & the Jews (which I highly recommend), a long journey of discovery began. Just as the American colonies grew out of centuries of European history, I began to see how the Jewish tradition emerged from the rise of agriculture and Western civilization. Suddenly, the tragedy of the Holocaust from which my grandparents fled emerged as an apex on a much longer curve. The context in which my ancestors lived began to come alive in my imagination.
I was overwhelmed. The sheer complexity of events, and the time span they encompass, is difficult to digest. American history goes back only a few hundred years, and little has endured of native tribal history before that, since little was constructed in stone. By contrast, the kingdoms of Israel have left art and architecture behind that date back over 3000 years. In Europe, too, history has endured over the centuries and millennia.
As I struggled to come to terms with all this, an image emerged. I felt I was peeling back veils to reveal something that had been there all along – something organic and alive, with roots in the past and tendrils that grow into the future. The woman pictured is introspective. Like every Jew, she is shaped by a common history – one which continues to evolve through our generation. The lines of the veils cut across her face, waving as if lifted by an invisible wind.
“The Veiled History” began as a brush drawing in brown ink. I developed this technique while recovering from shoulder surgery in 2006. Through six months of rehabilitation, my ability to paint and draw was very limited. Monochromatic brush drawings became a way of preserving ideas quickly that could be finished later. I even did one painting with my left hand!
This particular brush drawing was done on a textured rice paper, semi-transparent like a veil itself – and colored later with gouache paint. It can almost be considered a colored drawing, rather than a painting. My goal was to make a harmonious weaving of the woman with all those complex veils. Among the details are a synagogue and a mosque in Jerusalem, a North American house, olive trees, bridges, and people. I could add much more, of course – and I do aspire to do a larger, more detailed version of this painting.
Maybe next year.
The original painting of “The Veiled History” is for sale. It measures approximately 12″ wide. Please inquire by email if you’re interested.
STUDY FOR VIEW FROM OLD CITY RAMPARTS
Sivan-Tamuz 5776 / July 2016
This quick study brings back memories of a great day in Jerusalem. Along with three friends, my daughter and I toured the archaeological excavations under the Temple Mount, known as the Western Wall Tunnels. Down into the bowels of Jewish history we went, through narrow stone passageways, past blocks of stone moved over three thousand years ago to build the foundation of Solomon’s Temple – some stones the length of a school bus, moved by teams of sixteen oxen or more. Then we walked forward in time again, ascended back to present-day street level, and climbed to the top of the massive wall that surrounds the Old City.
It was a pleasure to follow these ramparts – 475-year-old stone walkways – along the top of the wall. Inside and outside these walls lay the old and new Jerusalem. The spacious autumn sky was especially welcome after the cloistered air of the tunnels below. To experience the ancient city from both above and below gave me a richer perspective.
But with my daughter and her friend racing ahead, there was little time to linger, so I did a few quick sketches and took photos for reference. I particularly loved the view to the West, where the land slopes gently upward, and the buildings and trees appear like a colorful mosaic.
On the long flight home, I was fortunate to have an empty seat next to me, so I decided to do a color sketch of this view in gouache – a water-based paint that comes in small tubes, convenient for travel. I set up my paints on the empty seat, and worked in a small painting book from Thailand which had been given to me as a gift. This book has unique handmade paper the likes of which I’ve never seen before. Every page is precious.
On the other side of the empty seat sat a gracious young Orthodox woman who watched me paint. We shared our concerns about traveling with children, or leaving children behind while traveling – either way, challenging.
This study is destined to evolve into a larger painting which will probably include not only the view, but part of the rampart wall itself. It joins a long queue of paintings in my mind that have yet to manifest . . . all waiting patiently for the right opportunity. You might see it in my calendar next year!
Tamuz-Av 5776 / August 2016
In most synagogue services, there are typically two times when the individual retreats into solitude: while reciting the Shema, the core declaration of oneness in Judaism; and while standing in silence as part of the Amidah, or Standing Prayer. The Amidah is considered to be the heart of the service, when we stand in communion with our own connection to Creation. Up to nineteen traditional blessings may be recited during the Amidah, creating a sacred frame around that special silence, which in my congregation is followed by the final blessing, sung as a prayer for peace.
It may seem like a paradox that the heart of a communal service contains solitude and silence. Why do that in public? The rest of the service is full of interaction and singing. But paradox is a normal thing in Judaism, and it serves a purpose here: to make private our individual belief in God – or no God – and to stand in that belief, without being judged, in the presence of others. We cover our eyes during the Shema in order to retreat into our private space; during the Amidah, many people put their tallit, or prayer shawl, over their head. Other physical motions, such as taking small steps forward or bowing, also create a sense of separation and devotion. One’s intention, of course, also makes this “place” special – a momentary sanctuary in time. Nobody treads there – you are alone with your beliefs and your connection to life as it unfolds. Plurality reigns as we stand together as one. Like the dot in a yin-yang that is the seed of its opposite, individuality is found in the center of public worship. Moving into that individual oneness, we find within ourselves what is common to all. This interweaving of oneness and plurality is a theme that recurs in Judaism – and a source of endless musing for artists.
Blending opposites together is something than can be done with a paintbrush as well. In this painting, my second depiction of the Amidah, I strive to create the fabric of a Jewish congregation, with individuals who form a larger whole. The hands that bless them dissolve into the tapestry of color and shape. It is suffused with yellow, as I associate the Amidah with morning sunlight. Tension is created by adding purple and lavender, which are opposite yellow on the color wheel. My challenge was to bring them into harmony with each other. The random curved lines that cut through the painting have no explanation, except that I was compelled to introduce another element, like a vine uncurling through the tapestry of human souls – its highest tendril crowned with an open eye.
Here’s the first version I painted of the Amidah – a small painting in gouache and colored pencil. Unfortunately, the light pencil tones on top of textured grey paper did not scan well. Note the figures here are in profile, while the faces in the final painting look toward the viewer. Sometimes when I can’t decide which version I like, I do both!
Both versions of “Amidah” are for sale. Please inquire if you’re interested.
STREET CORNER, NEVE TZEDEK
Av-Elul 5776 -Tishrei 5777 / September-October 2016
Neve Tzedek is a charming residential neighborhood in Tel Aviv. Built in 1887 – 22 years before the founding of Tel Aviv itself in 1909 – it was the first neighborhood to be established outside the old port city of Jaffa. It’s easy to imagine a lot of creative people living here. The campus of an old girls’ school, a train station made into an outdoor shopping mall, colorful graffiti, and an awesome ice cream shop stand out in my memory of walking the streets. I found the corner view of this building interesting with the modern buildings in the distance. I tried not to make my lines too straight, so that the cityscape would not appear rigid. In fact, the architectural lines of the building aren’t really right – but to my eye, it helps retain a sense of character.
This painting is just a color sketch, quickly executed in gouache paint in my bound travel book of handmade painting paper.
OLIVE TREE, HURVA SQUARE
Tishrei-Cheshvan – Kislev-Tevet 5777 / November-December 2016
I love drawing olive trees. This one stands in Jerusalem’s Old City near Hurva Square, which I have passed through on the way to the Kotel, or Western Wall. Hurva Square is always full of interesting people (and stray cats) – and there on the edge of it all is this olive tree, full of poise and character.
Drawing an olive tree is all about letting go of preconceptions. There’s just no pattern to the crazy organic forms. The older the tree, the more sculpturesque, as the bark folds itself into bulges, cracks, and holes.
On this trip to Israel, I was in Jerusalem partly to do research for a book about an olive tree. A year earlier, my daughter and I spent a week picking olives at Kibbutz Gezer. I loved participating in the olive harvest. Now I was taking pictures and notes for the historical part of my book, which will be a window into the history of the Galilee through the lifespan of an ancient olive tree.
The more I’ve learned about olive trees, the more there is to know. It will all be compiled in my forthcoming book The Life of an Olive, to be published next year. I can’t think of a better way to start the New Year than designing and illustrating a new book! Especially a book about a subject I love so much.
Whatever you’re doing this year, I wish you Shana Tova U’metukah – a good and sweet New Year!
The Jewish Eye Calendar of Art costs $18, and is presently for sale through my webstore; in stores in Woodstock, Rhinebeck, and Phoenicia, NY; at the Bremen Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA; the Woodstock Jewish Congregation; and on Amazon. If you know me personally, you can also get the calendar from me directly – send me an email.
The calendar is printed on high-quality semi-gloss paper, and features 14 paintings inspired by Jewish holidays, Torah, and Israel. Includes candle-lighting times (for NYC); Jewish holidays; the weekly Torah portion in Hebrew and English; and major secular holidays. The calendar covers the Jewish year 5776 (September 2015 – August 2016), plus half pages for September-December 2016 (5777).
Order your calendar today!