A Work in Progress

October 1, 2012

If you scroll down to this time last year, you’ll see “Amish Autumn” as it was then.

It often takes time for me to really see what needs to happen to a painting. Sometimes it takes a word or suggestion from a friend.

In this case, I initially imagined “Amish Autumn”as somewhat naive: colors clear and “pretty”, the background misty and very secondary to the children…and all a little impressionistic. Photo-realism can be lovely, but it’s not what I’m trying to achieve. We’ve spent time with these people in Lancaster County, and this is how I saw them. Simple. plain, uncomplicated.

But, in the end, the painting didn’t completely satisfy me. It didn’t seem a “whole”. The children didn’t seem to feel comfortable in their world. Background and fore- seemed out of joint.

A year later, a glaze of raw umber brought some harmony to the work.
We’re works in progress. Sometimes we don’t really “see” until a there’s been a passage of time, a few steps are taken to provide some distance, or the word of a friend comes to bring decisions, change and  resulting good.

Though we may have an idea of what we think the finished work should look like, the Artist, Whose work we are, has the advantage of both intimacy and distance, unerring perspective and purpose and is the friend who always brings harmony, even through the upheaval of change.

Amish Autumn with some changes made


Noir Canard 2

September 29, 2012

My favourite Noir duck lives on.

Noir Canard and the Femme Fatale

Noir Canard and the Woman

The (sigh) self portrait

April 20, 2012

Steve Bowden instructed me to do a self-portrait some time ago.

I’ve been dabbling away at it for quite a while, not quite enthusiastically much of the time.  I mean, I don’t really want a portrait of myself at age 58.

Last night, Steve said that I was “allowed” to stop.

It’s been a good/challenging exercise, however, so…point taken.

In initially establishing the facial proportions by holding up the brush handle at arm’s length to ascertain distances, one sees multiple brush handles and can never quite get the height/width of the eyes, since you are at that point holding the brush in front of them and can’t see them at all! Hmmm.

Looking into a mirror, then stepping away from it towards the painting (set back a few feet from the easel holding the mirror), was interesting. Not possible to immediately compare the effect of a brush stroke with the subject.  Must step back into view of mirror, away from canvas. Painting the eyes was the most tricky aspect. Again, a matter of attempting to commit small variations in tone and exact placement of little identifying marks to memory before painting them. All the while, maintaining a “natural” facial expression.

There are mixed opinions as to whether or not I succeeded.

Next assignment: now “Mself” has to sit around, in view, for a month.  At the end of that time I make any  changes that particularly “niggle”.

Long to Look

“Long to Look” found a home.

IAM (link on right) had a Small Works Auction in New York City.  I received an email from IAM and duly sent her on her way: “For the fourth year, IAM is hosting our Christmas Art Extravaganza, a raucous shindig where people buy raffle tickets, wait for their number to get called, and actually touch some art as they take down their favorite piece from the wall of honor.”

I always think that Artist’s Notes help. (Thank you, Christina): “This Titian-haired young Australian girl was once part of a larger work, however I found that others as well as myself were drawn to her to the exclusion of the other figures. Her deep-eyed expression of inquiry reminds me of a scripture from First Peter: the mystery of Christ, the gospel, has been revealed to us (‘things into which angels long to look’) and has been given to young girls like Abby.

‘It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look.’
1 Peter 1:12″

I sold two paintings at the  Optomeyes Exhibition last weekend at the Long Gallery, Salamanca Place, Hobart.  Both were done about 5 years ago, and one of them was quite unlike any other I’ve done.

The Curators didn’t allow Artist’s Notes, so it was really interesting to quietly linger and hear what viewers thought of “Noir Canard”.  I think the general consensus was that it related to vegetarianism.  Wouldn’t I love to see the purchaser’s face when they get it unwrapped and discover my notes on the back? If only.

What do you think that “Noir Canard” is about?

I don’t think you’re likely to come up with what was really on my mind, but I’d love to hear your guess. (comments, below, please) No scrolling down to my notes until you’ve thought about it!

Margaret Sonnemann painting "Noir Canard"

Can you guess what's happening in "Noir Canard"?






This is what the purchaser of my painting found on the reverse:

Noir Canard

This painting, with more than a hint of the absurd, contains references to the genre of noir filmmaking, paying special tribute to Hitchcock.  Here is no allegory, only a visual re-thinking of some of the familiar trappings of the noir genre – intense shadows, a doorway, a stream of light discovering a suspicious object, a silhouetted stranger.

The inspiration behind this particular silhouetted stranger came simply from the combined sounds of the words “noir” (black) and “canard” (duck) in French.

“A murder without gleaming scissors is like asparagus without Hollandaise Sauce – tasteless.”

– Alfred Hitchcock –

I had a week to paint a 2′ x 3′ (61cm x 92cm or just say “life-size”) painting and that should have been incentive enough to action.


If it wasn’t something like the urgent (?) need to check my email, Face Book or respond to a move in Words with Friends, it was definitely time for “just a cup of tea” to get me going. Chocolate, perhaps? Hmmm, nothing in the cupboard; won’t take long to throw some cookies into the oven.

That sort of week.

In the end, I wasn’t really able to finish it, to my satisfaction.  I stayed up half the night turning it around in front of an open convection oven trying to dry it.

So, off goes little Evelyn to an exhibition.  But if I had been more diligent I would be much happier with the result.  I’m thankful that, since she’s in oils, I can finish her later.  You might say that I’ll have another chance to work on both her and procrastination.

We’re like oils in that way, a work in progress. Heading towards the image that the artist has in mind.  Sometimes there seems to be a glitch, a regression or “redo”, a time when nothing much is happening.  Then there’s a time for it to get made right.

my eldest granddaughter


I keep telling myself to stop trying to paint great photographs.  This one was. A great photo just can’t be improved upon, so you end up feeling just a little flat after attempting it.

Perhaps it’s this:  when I see a thing of beauty I just long to paint it, to somehow participate in its loveliness.  Note to self: many things of are gifts from God, meant to be enjoyed.  Just enjoyed; sometimes there is no need to respond by doing.

Amish Autumn

September 24, 2011

Nearly finished...may have to stop so it can dry...

This is what I’ve painted for the Royal Hobart Show this year.  We’ve spent a little time with the Amish and other Plain People of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

After I’d finished it, something about it reminded me of the painting “The Angelus” (1857) by Jean François Millet.