Monday, December 29, 2014


a tribute to her royal self

She was a particular kind of feline. Sometimes stately, befitting her name and sometimes ornery, well, just because she could. She was rather large, you see, statuesque. Not quite as big as her scale-bending sibling Otto but big enough to think twice about crossing her. She was definitely a force to be reckoned with.

Madame ©  Lissa Banks 2014

Otto seems to be overlording from the settee in this painting but don't be fooled, it was Madame who ruled the roost, except when she was being freaked out by ceiling fans that is.

We lost Madame this year. My daughter called me, tearfully detailing her demise, congestive heart failure. I hoped the painting, a Christmas gift, would fill that hole beloved pets leave us with when they depart.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Winter's Warmth

Among tattered sticky notes, phone extensions listings, memos, meeting dates and emergency procedures, round little faces of friends, family and colleagues' babies and grand babies colored the bulletin board beside my desk. I didn't put all I received up there, just the ones that made me happy.

Before the Snowball Fight  ©  Lissa Banks 2014
This one was a keeper. I've always loved Violet's expression, adoration and mischievousness rolled into one. And Richard, blissfully unaware of what might be forming in Violet's mitten, the big brother embracing his little sister.

I thank my nephew for allowing me to use his photo to create this painting. The bulletin board stayed with the job but these faces, and sibling love and rivalry, live on.

Monday, November 3, 2014

What Value Art

What is the value of an artist's work? Probably the hardest thing they do is try to put a price on a piece of art. After all, it's not a widget. It springs to our soul from our eyes and through our hands to become something unique.

A nacent painting.

Today, while I worked on the initial layers of my most recent painting, Dennis, my handyman and all around go-to guy these days was painting the two walls in the hall my 5'2" body couldn't quite reach. He put in 6 hours and I paid him $360 for his time.

The paintings I've done this year have taken me anywhere from three to 70 hours to complete depending on the size and the complexity of the design, but I don't charge by the hour. Artists need to price their work more consistently than that. Sometimes a small piece might be more intricate than you'd think.

People generally expect that a larger piece should fetch a higher price. And often they are correct. It usually does take more time to complete and the materials that are required are also more costly. Similarly most folks would find it odd to see two comparably sized paintings priced dramatically differently so like most painters, I price my work basically by the square inch, rounding up or down if need be and taking a hit on the paintings that took longer and recouping some on the ones that took less. It all evens out.

Ah, freshly painted walls.
Which brings me back to my original question, what is the value of my work? If I were Dennis,  and charged his hourly rate my paintings would cost almost twice as much as they do now, and that doesn't include materials. Maybe I should change my trade and paint walls instead! After all, I know many people who will pay a painter a thousand dollars or more to paint a room or two but who consider paying the same for an original piece of art a luxury.

It's what you value, I guess. I'm just happy so many people value art.

  For more about my work follow me on Facebook or visit my website Lissa Banks Paintings.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

From My Soul, From My Hands, and From My Heart

The Critic

A happy Christmas circa 1977
Who is one's own worst critic? I own up to often being my own. When I find myself looking at old photos of myself I acutely recall how much I didn't like that image at the time, but years later find I didn't look all that bad after all (old perms notwithstanding).

"Hey, I was pretty cute", my much older self says through her wrinkles.

And when I look through old projects, I find drawings and paintings that, at the time, I thought were sub-par only to rediscover to be really quite decent after all...several of which I've come to pluck out of the
Impatient Impatiens
 © Lissa Banks 2010
darkness and place on a wall or two.

So what makes me think my work (or self) isn't worthy?

Sometimes it's the people whom we love (and who love us) who, out of some sort of misguided need to save us or themselves from ridicule, try to soften the inevitable blow by letting us know that most likely we're not the next best thing to hit the world.

Sometimes it's a teacher who makes an offhand comment, not entirely meant to discourage, that is taken to heart where it festers into something unforeseen. Those kinds of remarks often sit deep in our souls where they remain invisible negative yardsticks that stymie our growth. Teachers who discourage might be more powerful than those who nurture because they create an environment of self-doubt in which the seed of creativity has a hard time taking hold.
Fat Cat
 © Lissa Banks

I also suspect that a big source of discouragement is the apparent success of others, the big splashy successes of the mass marketed. I don't cast aspersions to any of these folks. But sometimes the ideal to which we aspire, those careers of public figures, seem "out of our league", too fabulous, too not us.

Finding my paradise

So what to do?

First of all, people might not like what you do, and that's okay. I've slaved over stuff that nobody else likes but me. Gotta get to the other side of that. Not too hard since it's easy enough to think everyone else is nuts...nice nuts but nuts...and besides, I can always keep it since I like it!

 © Lissa Banks 1975
The flip side: there's no accounting for taste...and by that I mean mine too! This past year I've posted images of paintings I've been reluctant to share because I thought they weren't so hot only to find that they been wildly popular! Who knew?!?

And finally, sometimes our loved ones are insecure about how our success might reduce them in some way. They love us but want us to stay who they think we are. This is a especially hard one for those of us whose work does not help support a household.

If I had one wish I would go back to that time when this challenge arose for me and realize that even though I would most likely not be the next John Singer Sargent or the next Georgia O'Keefe or the next Helen Frankenthaler, that my work was of value because it sprang from my soul, from my hands, and from my heart. And that someone might find that of value, and that I found it of value as well, and that that was enough for me to find my paradise.

  For more about my work follow me on Facebook or visit my website Lissa Banks Paintings.

Monday, September 29, 2014



Not sure what got into me the other day. I usually leave these things alone until they nag at me incessantly, but I decided to update my Quicken files. Yes, I decided to get down to business.

As is often the case, I got a little surprise but this time it was a good one. As of the end of September it looked as though I was heading toward actually making a small profit in my new life venture, painting. This was gratifying news!

Taking Account

From sketchbook c. 1966-67
I remember that day in eighth grade quite clearly. With windows open towards the ocean, my art teacher was trying to open up our own horizons by talking about careers in art. All I remember were teaching and graphic design. I had a pretty good idea what teaching entailed, being a middle schooler and all, but little idea what graphic design meant. It sounded too constrained. Too robotic for my high flying dreams. Trying hard to catch her drift, I was smacked with the realization that making a living just painting pictures was probably not something that could be remotely possible.

I was a little crushed but not really surprised and left scrambling for something else I might like to do with my life. A state I remained in for quite a while (as in throughout most of my adulthood).

Adding it all up

From sketchbook 2014
The debits and credits of my life thus far most certainly land me in the black. I've been more fortunate than most in this way. Rich in friendships and family, I've had personal and professional success. And now even as I continue to wobble into this new aspect of my life I count my blessings every day.

My profits might not be able to buy me much more than a couple of pedicures and a cup of decaf but it is oh so rich to know that my investment in a long-held dream is finally coming to some kind of fruition. What a lucky woman I am to have been able to reap this bonus.

  For more about my work follow me on Facebook or visit my website Lissa Banks Paintings.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Feminine Wiles

Last Thanksgiving I had the unique privelidge to sleep a night or two in a young ladies' bedroom. She was spending the night at her mother's house so I took up residence among objects most likely not long for her life. Dolls, stickers, posters, scraps of paper. Treasures all.

Cinderella © Lissa Banks
I wanted to read for a bit before going to sleep but the overhead light was a bit too bright. I turned Cinderella Barbie on. Surprisingly bright light, I thought, as I snapped this shot. Barbie illuminating the darkness.

As I look at this painting, I'm struck by so many lessons for the little girls who flick the switch to turn on their bedside light. Cinderella, the girl rescued from oppression by the proverbial prince of a guy who only recognizes her beauty when she's dolled up in her glass slippers. Barbie, the improbable and unattainable figure of womanhood clasped tightly by four-year-old girls across the globe. The girl-woman with no legs, a steely coil hoists her to hover over the desktop.

What lessons do we teach our daughters? Who illuminates their darknesses?

Note: I'm at a loss for a title for this painting. Suggestions? Put them in the comments please.

  For more about my work follow me on Facebook or visit my website Lissa Banks Paintings.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Loosening Up

I'm at a bit of loose ends.

Started one project in oil but it needs to dry before I can move forward. Waiting for a call back from the collector to start working on a commission. Can you hear my fingers thrumming on the desk?

Not wanting to get into anything too ambitious I decided to aim to complete one canvas in one day. This is counter to my instincts. One day requires spontaneity. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I'm a ducks in a row kinda person. There is a list somewhere in every room of my house.

Enter Autumn Mist - Willamette Valley
© Lissa Banks
I turned to my trove of photos and found a shot from a memorable visit to the Willamette Valley wine country in Oregon. It was November so the crush was long tucked away and being transformed by the miracle that turns grape juice into wine.

Maybe it was the spirit of the spirit moving through me (we did enjoy some good wines that trip) but I think I've captured the atmosphere fairly well...mist rising over a nearby ridge, edging through the pines and onto the yellowing vines.

That was fun, think I'll do it again.

  For more about my work follow me on Facebook or visit my website Lissa Banks Paintings.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Reality Check

We sat knee to knee in the living room checkered by Christmas presents and plastic bags full of wrappings when she coyly announced that he was taking her to a romantic inn in Maine for New Years. I wondered if she'd come back with a bit of gold wrapped around her left ring finger. Indeed she did.

A few weeks later my son asked if I'd be able to sit for the boys come August. The wedding to be in Jamaica, not child friendly. Confident that with an expert helper by my side I'd survive, I said yes.

Summer Boys © 2014 Lissa Banks
Fast forward to August. Four nights and five days full of Cheerios, diapers, kiddie pool splashing, tricycle riding, playground excursions, bumped knee kisses, emptied towel drawers, brotherly swipes, baths, more diapers, hummus sandwiches, ice cream making, Lego building, water coloring, turtle hunting and stories before sleep did not go by in a flash. Indeed, there were times I was sure they would never end. But end they did.

I am so glad for that time, exhaustion was gladly paid for the opportunity to be a mother again to two such small and wonderful creatures. And equally glad to have this image as a memory of those summer days.

  For more about my work follow me on Facebook or visit my website Lissa Banks Paintings.

Monday, August 18, 2014


It sometimes happens that happy things are also sad things. That the innocence of children belies what the future holds for them. And life lives itself out in the way it always does, with gratitude jumbled up with loss for things once had. Pretty much sums up my feelings about this painting.

Max © Lissa Banks 2014
The boy grew more distant from us, veiled by the mysteries of the human brain. The beautiful boy. Sweet Max. His grandparents generously commissioned the painting for Max's mother, yet unaware of the life and death struggle one of them would be facing of his own. Body turning against itself.

We soldier on knowing we will meet our own day of reckoning, none of us able to squirm our way out of it. No excuses.

But until then there are bright days against which to squint, posies to pick, gravel to crunch under our tennies, small hands to grab hold of as if to keep them from ever growing larger and inevitably letting go and moving far away from us.

  For more about my work follow me on Facebook or visit my website Lissa Banks Paintings.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Flashing Back

It was just past midnight on a damp June evening some 46 years ago. I was sitting on the floor with a sketchy black and white TV tuned to the California presidential primary election results. It's likely that I was working on a painting that looked something like this one.

Daisies 1969
I was 16-years-old and had been working on odds and ends of lumber, detritus from my dad's workshop that he let me have, encouraging my artwork. Some were stylized portraits of families — girls with big eyes and Victorian styled dresses holding bouquets of daisies. Others were baskets of flowers, or suns, or moons. It was the 60s, after all. I made a little money from commissions. Handmade versions, perhaps, of stick figures seen on the back of minivans these days.

On this night, however, innocence was lost once again. I looked up just in time to see a scuffle in the kitchen of a hotel. A woman, Ethyl Kennedy, reaching down for her husband Robert, as he collapsed on the ground.

What did I just see? What was real? There was no DVR to rewind. No instant replay. There was no explanation except for the chaos that surrounded the man on the ground. Sadly we'd seen it before. When would it end?

I remember the bright colors on my pallet, my brushes, my hands, the wood. I remember the black and white on the flickering TV screen.

  For more about my work follow me on Facebook or visit my website Lissa Banks Paintings.

Monday, July 21, 2014


Places and things

It goes without saying that people and relationships are the most important things in our human existence. Without them we are but stick figures, dimensionless, solitary. Like you, my family and friends are precious. And maybe like you, I also derive tremendous satisfaction from being out in nature, and particularly in my fledgeling garden.

My garden (though it struggles against the elements, deer, slugs and powdery mildew) brings me a great deal of happiness. There's something about getting my hands in the dirt or finding a frog under a leaf (always scaring the pants off me) that soothes my soul.

New Roses © Lissa Banks 2014

It's also the ultimate act of optimism. After all, each season is full of disappointment. The aphids that attacked, the tough little radishes that never grew succulent hips, the chipmunks who feasted on all and anything I attempted to start from seed. And yet each spring I dream of armloads of flowers and hope to get sick of zucchini as I peruse little seed packets, pile a wobbly cart full of six-packs of annuals and gallon containers of perennials. I persevere.

This year, in the hopes of establishing a few perennial gardens, I planted some roses. I was late out of the gate. Lowe's had some rather sad looking bare root specimens and I'd heard that they are a popular deer appetizer. Undaunted I dug my rocky soil and plunked them in. I was rewarded.

Maybe my love of gardening is connected to my love of painting. My paintings usually begin with some grand vision and a healthy dose of trepidation. Like my garden, there are risks and danger around every corner. If I'm lucky, I am rewarded with something I can be proud of.

This time I hit the daily double. My roses thrive (and have so far evaded our furry friends) and my newest painting stands as proof. Happiness.

  For more about my work follow me on Facebook or visit my website Lissa Banks Paintings.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Chocolate and Ginger Ale

Celebrating a commission

I've just finished a project, a commission, that's taken me longer than I'd expected and has turned out better than I could have imagined. I'd love to post an image of it here but won't be able to do so until it's delivered, which will be a while. For now I'll just need to be content to celebrate with a few pieces of dark chocolate and ginger ale since it's a little too early for a glass of wine!

Working on commission is a different bird from working on my own. The times I've been so honored to perform such a task I've had to work from a photo that was taken by someone else. This presents a few problems. 

First, not being behind the lens removes me from the emotion of the moment. I must rely on others to explain to me their connection to the event if it's not immediately evident. In the case of the image that inspired the painting below, I was fortunate to know one of the subjects. It made it easier to grasp the melancholy that the patron was hoping I'd capture.

Ruth Mary & Callum  © 2014 Lissa Banks
 Second, sometimes the image is of a lower resolution or is a scan from an old snapshot. Lots of data gets lost in smaller images. To achieve the kind of realism that is often a part of my work small details can be lost or the speckles and "noise" can interfere with understanding object boundaries.

And finally, not all images are optimum. A good composition isn't just about where objects are, it's also about color, contrast, line and balance, for a start. A lack of contrast, for example, makes it difficult to represent depth and keep the painting from being too flat or boring. My most recent endeavor presented that challenge. You'll have to trust me for now that I believe I solved the problem.

Fishing © 2014 Lissa Banks
And sometimes I have the good fortune to be presented with an extraordinary image with beautiful light, color, contrast, composition and clarity, like the inspiration of the painting above, and all is well.

Possibly the hardest thing to do, however, is to try and imagine myself as the commissioner who has in their own head a vision of what they want to see. When I'm able to tap into that place and also work true to my own style the stars align and we have a success. I say "we" because it really is a collaboration. After all, the painting would never have come to light without the patron's desire.

  For more about my work follow me on Facebook or visit my website Lissa Banks Paintings.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Thoughts on Painting

...or the lack thereof.

Since this little tack I've taken in my life has been largely motivated by a desire to follow my bliss and paint, it seemed logical to me to also turn this blog around into something that focused more about my work.  It's morphed before and it can again.

Problem is, I'm not terribly adept at talking about my work. I'm great at talking about paintings, just not mine so much. So I'll just rip off the bandaid and tell the tale of my most recent work, Panhandle TX. Maybe I'll get better at this as I go along.

If you were along for the ride when I blogged about our cross country drive you might remember my July 31, 2013 post that featured the inspiration for this painting along with the only mention of the great state of Texas, with apologies to all Texans. We'd only crossed over a very tiny bit of the panhandle, after leaving spectacular New Mexico, and we found the place desolate and dusty. Believe me when I say that my painting is a verdant Eden compared to the drought stricken landscape we encountered.

But as is often the case, when I really dive into an inspiration image, I find so much more there than "meets the eye" to make a shameless pun. In my little iPhone snapshot I found life clinging tenaciously to the roadside, turned earth teeming with dried seed heads just waiting for rain to give them life, and a battered highway exit sign seemingly pointing the way the last truck took across an arid field. What at first glance seemed so bleak, became rich in meaning.

It is also worth saying that after witnessing the devastation of Texas, entering Oklahoma truly felt like entering the land of Oz. Like an instantaneous miracle, gray yielded to green and all seemed right with the world. So much so that I celebrated the experience with another painting earlier this year, Oklahoma.

You can see these and all of my paintings on my website: or on my Facebook page

Monday, May 19, 2014

Romancing the House

Some hard work...inside

It took one day to get all the blasted boxes into the house but many more to settle in. When grime was wiped away (off the house and me!) I faced making this house my home.

First Task: House Guts

I love my tractor
I knew the house had its issues. When I turned 30 my back went out, so why not this house, especially if it never seemed to have taken very good care of itself. So I had some inkling that stuff needed fixing. How bad? Hmmm, let me put it this way, my carpenter now enters the house announcing "Honey I'm home" and brings me vegetables from his garden.

The short list of things that needed doing immediately: new electric panel (the old one had melted), new furnace, new neutralizer (yes, I have a well now), all new faucets and shower heads, new water heater, gutters and facia board, exterior window sills, deck work, mold remediation and insulation. And a few dozen other smaller tasks.

I bought a tractor to handle the acre of lawn on my nearly two acre lot and started to clear the weeds, fallen limbs, dead trees, poison ivy and carpenter ants.

Second task: Studio

After: Studio with floor
cloth awaiting final
Before: Yellow walls,
woodwork primed,
carpet pulled up.
Determined to minimize down time creativity-wise, I set to putting my studio in order. Carpet had to go. The yellow walls had to go. Lighting needed to be installed.

I painted the walls, painted the floors to make plywood boards look like porch decking and painted shelving to match my other furniture. It was a paint fest for a room in which, hopefully, the painting would never end!

I also experimented with making a canvas floor cloth. Popular in colonial America, I thought it would be appropriate to my new home state and practical for my studio. I am so happy with the result I've pulled the carpet up off the stairs to make a black striped one to cascade down. Not sure when I'll get to it but it's on the list.

Third task: Guest Room

With my most excellent girlfriend, Tree, due to visit that summer, the guest room was second on the list. I was determined to make her room the happiest place on Main Street (Norfolk, that is).

Not sure what possessed me but I really wanted a funky wallpaper. After picking myself up off the floor from the wallpaper sticker shock, I thought why do I need any stinking wallpaper, I'll find a stencil! Etsy to the rescue.

I cursed like a sailor making it happen. It was 90° with 90% humidity for the two weeks it took to finish and I nearly expired in the process but I love, love, love the result. The guys installing insulation in the attic and the carpenter even liked it.  It really is a happy room.

Fourth, fifth...sixtieth tasks: 

Laundry now a slightly
less dreaded task
And then there was a new grand baby boy born in September, sweet William; a visit to California and Oregon, a half cord wood to stack; living room and study painted; family and friends visits; Christmas; snow, cold, snow, cold and more cold and more snow; three art exhibits; ten new paintings; and more.

My last projects were to paint the little den upstairs, spuzz up the laundry alcove and to try and make the guest bath look like I'd spent thousands of dollars on a major upgrade. The laundry room is now less of a drudge. It used to be a dreary beige.

New light fixtures, a snazzy new color, and a (fake)
marble countertop really transformed this bathroom
But the bathroom turned out better than I'd hoped. In addition to giving it a fresh coat of flannel gray paint I desperately needed to improve the rather drab Formica countertop. Ever the optimist, I thought I'll make it look like marble.

Hint: Rustoleum makes a marvelous product that sticks like super glue to the laminate! It stinks to high heaven but it works. To that I added coat after coat of paint and polyurethane and finished with a silky coat of car wax to mimic the smooth finish of polished marble. If I do say so myself, it's stunning. Now I want to marbleize everything!

And now for something completely different...

I'm going to hang up the scrapers and sandpaper for now. There is still plenty to do, but I'm planning to focus on what really feeds my soul: painting (like paintings). Today I launched my Lissa Banks Paintings Facebook page, like it, share it, tell your friends, I want to sell some paintings!

That and working in my garden, mowing the lawn, picking cucumber beetles off the plants and chasing the neighbor cat out of the yard.

Sunday morning I woke to find a horse in the back yard, grazing on my grass and switching his tail. It reminded me of why I love living here. I'm close to the things I love: one of my children, grandchildren, nature, my life work.

A little over a year ago I traded a paycheck for something you couldn't pay me to give up: love, serenity, clean air and the satisfaction of knowing that whatever my future, it's my own to make.

Next: Thoughts on painting

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

It's Been a Long Time...

Where Was I?

dramatic skies
Oh yeah, some eight months ago I left you all hanging. My apologies, now back to our intrepid travelers...

We'd spent a night in the Poconos and were about to embark on the final leg of our journey. Breathing in the cool mountain air we packed up the car, and Boo, for the last time. Pennsylvania was endless.

New York flew by in a flash, literally, we floated through during a thunderstorm and we even touched tires to New Jersey, briefly, before entering Connecticut.

Taking the Road Less Traveled

I'd made the executive (and most excellent) decision to get off the beaten path once we'd passed Hartford and found a dotted route on the old fashioned paper map that indicated a scenic route. It didn't disappoint. We passed farms and villages that belonged on picture postcards. Covered bridges and apple orchards in full bloom.

the ladies
Signs for fresh produce beckoned, after all, an empty refrigerator was greeting us at the other end of our day. One stand was "manned" by a rather large, sleeping black lab. We dutifully paid our $4 and scored a fat wad of chunky purple asparagus. At another, happy hens clucked a welcome as we made our solitary purchase and traveled on.

For lunch we stopped at a diner, not realizing where we are. It was Newtown CT. Pictures of shared grief from around the world decorated the walls of the restaurant. The gas station next door had a handmade sign as we entered that read, "We Choose Love." Words born of an unthinkable aftermath.

We wound further north through Rhode Island (Mike thought the name Woonsocket was hilarious) and finally into Massachusetts. Suddenly the past seven days seemed to have passed in the blink of an eye. We were here.

New Beginnings

a blank canvas, and lots of weeds
After picking up the key at my son's house, we drove over to my new home, just a little over a mile away. Pulling into the drive, we stopped the car to take a first sighting photograph. Like the emerging spring it stood there looking a bit damp and chilly but full of promise.

Since I'd left Pasadena I had tried hard to keep the future, and not the past, in my sights. Now it was a reality. There was much to do. Tons to clean, measuring to do, layouts to verify before the movers arrived with the rest of my life, a refrigerator, and a home, to fill with more than just asparagus and eggs. A new life to lead, memories to make.

Next... romancing the house.