Thursday, November 12, 2015

Painting is Terrifying

A sage teacher once told the class that you had to be brave to paint. As she passed on that terrifying concept, a loaded palette knife hovered over my painting. No truer words were spoken, I thought, sizing up my next move. Each moment your hand touches the canvas, the clay, the wood, the metal, you risk totally screwing up what, until that very second, you might have been pretty happy with.

There is a certain agony that goes along with the creative process. Unbidden, self-doubt joins me in the studio, freely critiquing my progress (or lack thereof), never holding back a negative opinion. Colors are scrutinized, shapes are criticized, brushstrokes are deemed too tight, too loose.  Focus is lost, meaning becomes foggy. Step by step, lessons, experience, choice and instinct are called into question.

My current project, eventually four pears will emerge on the windowsill.

So when I come to this point in the evolution of a painting I gird myself against this commentary and look for the silver lining. Yeah, I think I'm pretty happy with where I am. It'll do for now. There's a lot yet to do. I can always change course, change colors, start over. Sometimes the cheerleading works, sometimes not and I walk away feeling a failure.

It's a life lesson too, you know, being brave. Living a meaningful life isn't for the faint of heart either. There are choices to be made and, sometimes, bonehead decisions to be reckoned with. And you never quite know how it will all turn out, until it does, or doesn't. We harbor self-doubt and listen to critics whose opinion may or may not be valid. We often make decisions that are self-destructive or hurtful to others. And we suffer the consequences. We don't always have the luxury of a do-over. We can't just paint over our mistakes.

But the sun rises the next day and again we face the shaping of our lives. If we're lucky we can stand back and say we did something right. We can look for a way to shape a new existence or at least better an old one. We can mend relationships, we can mend ourselves. We can learn and grow no matter how much we already know or how big we think we are. Life is like that. But it's sometimes terrifying and courage is almost always something you need to have on your palette.

  For more about my work follow me on Facebook or visit my website Lissa Banks Paintings to learn how to purchase an original, a print or to commission a painting...or find me on Pinterest. Or, you can find prints of my work for sale at

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


In college I loved to decipher, or attempt to at least, the symbolism in the paintings we studied. The musical instrument, a cabbage, a recently extinguished candle, the little dog underfoot, a unicorn in the distance, a map of the world, all spoke volumes about the main characters and the drama unfolding in tableau.

We studied paintings depicting the Virgin Mary as the archangel Gabriel tells her of God's plans for her future. In most cases she takes the news pretty well.

Lily Mae © Lissa Banks 2015
In these paintings, there's usually a representation of the holy spirit somewhere, a beam of light, a glowing dove. Often an open book, conveniently turned to Isaiah 7:14 ("therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son...") which might be why Mary hasn't fainted dead away...she saw it coming. Sometimes there's a vase or another vessel of some sort symbolizing that Mary will carry the yet-to-be-born savior. But perhaps the most common is the lily, symbol of purity.

I remember the day my drift away from religion really picked up speed. Ironically, it was at a church retreat. Searching, like many of us do, for some sort of spiritual ballast, I was attending classes at a local Episcopal church which brought me to the retreat. A small group of us sat on wooden chairs near the altar of a small chapel. The priest confessed to us that he had a hard time swallowing the virgin birth story. I was astounded! This guy? How could this be? The validation I was searching for dissolved faster than the host on my tongue.

Since that day I've come to describe myself as a "cultural Christian" which basically means that I celebrate the holidays and still find my moral compass in the Judeo-Christian tradition. I'm just not that keen on the whole organized stuff. And I'm highly suspicious of a book written by men who claimed God whispered in their ears. I think God, if there is such a being, has a whole lot more to do than ghost write a book for a few carbon units on one of a gazillion flecks of dust blowing through the universe.  But I digress.

When I see a lily I can't help but think of Easter, or of Mary's world being knocked off its axis. But I also can't help but think about the loving touch of a mother and of the sacrifice and servitude that goes along with that territory. I think about a warm and loving woman named Lily Mae -- long, long since gone -- who made my sometimes lonely childhood days a little less so. I can't help but think about the miracle of healing that happens at the kiss on a skinned knee. Lily Mae kissed quite a few.

People turn to the Virgin for intercession, for compassion, to hear their small woes. I talk to my beautiful sisters and the many women who have made my journey lighter by carrying some of my troubles in their pockets. And so, for Lily Mae, and for all of my miraculous sisters who carry on after receiving unwelcome news, whose kisses heal, who persevere, who laugh and stumble and ache and triumph, I dedicate this painting. I love you all.

  For more about my work follow me on Facebook or visit my website Lissa Banks Paintings to learn how to purchase an original, a print or to commission a painting...or find me on Pinterest. Or you can find this and other this and other prints for sale at

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Mistaken Identity

I thought I knew him

A good friend of mine, a former good friend of mine, someone who I once believed I loved, did something really stupid one day and ended up in federal prison. He told me he took the bribe but it only happened once. He was caught in a trap. His life was upended.

I stood by him. Helped him out. I was furious at his greed and humbled by the quick turn of fortune. I visited him during his incarceration.

The federal prison he was placed in is a minimum security facility out in the middle of nowhere. There are no fences to keep prisoners in as they walk from building to building but if you are stupid enough to try to escape they don't bring you back there. You go somewhere much worse.

Taft is a hard scrapple place. Not much grows unless someone helps it along, a lot. Oil pumps, giant steel grasshoppers, nod to drivers along the road now and then. Trucks blow past tumbleweeds and stir little else. On my way back from visiting him one February morning this sky presented itself. Inspiration, and something good out of a very bad situation.

Taft © Lissa Banks 2013

Lessons learned

The other day I got an email inquiring about this painting. I'm not sure why, but I didn't do my usual "WHOOP" in response. Instead I went for my morning walk and dealt with it later, with a clear head. Maybe I sensed something was afoot.

The buyer wanted to give it to his wife as an anniversary gift. He wanted to know what inspired me. I demurred, saying that the landscape was striking in its starkness, desolation. After I hit send I thought to my self, "nice sell for a romantic gift!"

Over the next few mornings my buyer peppered me with questions about the purchase, which I readily gave. I also noticed that as days went by, his grammar became odd. His punctuation and syntax uneven. Who forgets to capitalize part of his own name? I became suspicious and began investigating fraud. Then came the kicker...he would pay by check and since he was moving to the Philippines his "shipping agent" would contact me to arrange for delivery. A classic scam. They send you a check, which you deposit and the bank initially clears. Buyer has a change of heart and wants his money back which you oblige. Only later the bank finds it's fraudulent and you're out cash.

I declined the sale and pointed out to the gentleman that he was indeed a scammer. No argument there. Never again heard from the guy.

But it struck me that of all paintings to try to scam me on, he chose this one. The one whose genesis was an equally unsavory act. Could he sense the vulnerability I felt as drove down that road? As I bought the lies told to keep me close at hand? Did it reveal me to be the mark that I had once been?

At least this time I saw the con coming.

  For more about my work follow me on Facebook or visit my website Lissa Banks Paintings to learn how to purchase an original, a print or to commission a painting...or find me on Pinterest. Or you can find this and other this and other prints for sale at

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Wide Open Spaces

The Sky's the Limit

I'm partial to skies. I like looking at them, photographing them, imagining them and painting them. So I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that they show up in my paintings. 

I've just begun a series of skies. This is the first entry.

Tangerini Field © Lissa Banks 2015
Tangerini's is a local CSA share farm. (For you city folks, CSA stands for "community supporting agriculture." You invest in the coming crop then share in the bounty, or lack thereof, as the season unfolds.)

Last summer I was there for the tomatoes at $1.00/pound U-Pick event, loading up as much as I could carry to take home and put up for the winter...I realize I'm beginning to sound like Ma Kettle.

I paused to readjust my load, looked right and saw this special little cloud hovering over the field. Perfection. So were the tomatoes. All 25 pounds of them. 

This year I'm taking my wagon. Seriously.

  For more about my work follow me on Facebook or visit my website Lissa Banks Paintings to learn how to purchase an original, a print or to commission a painting...or find me on Pinterest. Or you can find this and other this and other prints for sale at

Monday, June 15, 2015

Local Summer

The perennial beds are planted, mulched and are starting to embarrass themselves with effusive blossoms. The deck has been painted and pots planted as well. With the house and grounds set for the season it's time for me to return to the studio after a small domestic hiatus.

What inspires me at this time of year? Those flowers I planted. The horses next door. The flowering dogwoods. The chartreuse lawns and tender sprouts on too long dormant bushes.

Norfolk Spring © Lissa Banks 2014

Last year it was this brilliant lawn and home on North Street in Norfolk. I loved the dense dark wall of evergreens against the pale sky, the light illuminating the house behind them and the rocker beckoning from the porch.

New Roses © Lissa Banks 2014
Later in the season I was smitten by these flame throwing roses hugging a picket fence in my yard. Unfortunately, they did not survive New England's winter of 2015 but at least I have this image as a remembrance. Every time I drive by that house and every time I pass the picket fence I remember those moments that drove my creativity.

Walsh's Greenhouse © Lissa Banks 2014
And though I cannot claim the inspiration for a painting I began last August (it was a commission that got it started), it was certainly the beauty of the location that suggested its success.

What will this summer bring? Not sure quite yet. Maybe your house. Maybe my own. But it's likely to be local.

  For more about my work follow me on Facebook or visit my website Lissa Banks Paintings to learn how to purchase an original, a print or to commission a painting...or find me on Pinterest (I'm new there so watch me as I grow!)

Saturday, May 30, 2015


I'd only been living here a short time. My neighbors had mentioned that the town's Community Day might be a fun outing for my grandson.

There were musicians, dancers, hot dogs, a bouncy house, 4-H animals, and a small-gauge train ride. But the best thing of all was seeing the stunned look in the eyes of my not quite two-year-old grandson as he gazed up at the massive trucks on display by the town's Department of Public Works. Did he want to get up into the cab? Oh yeah.

James and the Big Truck © Lissa Banks 2014

The carnival noise faded away. Voices softened as the wind breezed through the open windows a good seven feet off the ground. James's feet barely made it to the end of the seat, let alone the floor. He sat back and looked off to the distance, immobilized by his dreams. His face a reflection of his thoughts. We gave him a good long time to get his fill. And to blow the horn.

But there were more trucks to climb into, a firetruck to see, goats to pet. All good stuff whether you're  not quite two years old, or not.

  For more about my work follow me on Facebook or visit my website Lissa Banks Paintings to learn how to purchase an original, a print or to commission a painting...or find me on Pinterest. Or you can find this and other this and other prints for sale at

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Out of Darkness

Sunbathing Clementine © 2014 Lissa Banks
I had been feeling a lack in the inspiration department. My drawings looked flat. My paintings seemed dull. None of my inspiration photos were inspiring. And the garden had been singing its siren song.

I wondered when my muse would return. Could I drag it back by force? What was this place I inhabited these days? Was this my bardo, the transition between death and rebirth,  or as Sogyal Rinpoche writes "the oscillation between clarity and confusion, bewilderment and insight"?

I was floundering and desperately looking for some insight.

Then last Wednesday I delivered a painting I'd submitted to a juried show. A painting that had once kicked off a flurry of inspiration (my clementine series) to a show I really didn't know much about when I'd sent in my entries. I realize I do this a lot. Enter first, ask questions last.

When I drove up to the Danforth I realized this wasn't a little suburban gallery, this was a MUSEUM! With a permanent collection and donors and everything! I signed their papers and handed my painting off to a woman wearing white cotton gloves. My painting was going to hang in a museum exhibit! It was amazing.

Something changed after that. My work took on a new life. I took on a new life. I'd been reborn into my studio. I want all of my work to be worthy of a place like the Danforth Museum. What a powerful motivator such a simple act of walking up some steps and walking through a door has proved itself to be.

The garden will still beckon and I'll continue to stumble through bardo after bardo but I've tasted this moment and I like it. I'll have another, please.

  For more about my work follow me on Facebook or visit my website Lissa Banks Paintings to learn how to purchase an original, a print or to commission a painting...or find me on Pinterest. Or you can find this and other this and other prints for sale at

Monday, April 27, 2015

Unfinished Business

I’ve spent the better part of the past couple of weeks or so out in my garden. There were raised boxes to fill and flower beds to turn, and amend and turn again. I dug up turf, lovingly relocating clumps of it to bare spots and divots in my lawn. And since there were more bare spots than there were bits of sod, there was seed to sow.

I scratched at that soil and harvested a barrel’s worth of stones then laid little kernels of hope into slim rows. I stood in the breezy April chill as the spray from the hose drifted back onto my face and watered more than the soil and its promise.
Nothing has sprung to life just yet. 

Eventually comes the point when I’m pretty sure nothing will come of my efforts. I’ve wasted time I could have spent in the studio, or writing to a friend, baking cookies or laughing with a sister. And even if something does live, it will surely be devoured by insects, or chipmunks or the deer that linger at the edges of my lawn.

Before I began on this horticultural tear I had begun yet one more clementine portrait. I’d come upon an image I’d forgotten and I did so love that series. I got just to the point where there is form but little substance. There is promise but also the promise of failure, of disappointment.

It wasn’t hard to turn away and to turn towards the earth.

With the hard evidence of the intractable soil under my fingernails, I recall the pleasure I get from plunging my hands into the dirt. Of prying out a big old rock that’s in my way. Of the smell of the earth. Of the wriggly worms. Of my knees bending on the damp soil. Of the act of hope that the marvel of creation can happen once again and that I could have some small part in it.

So while I wait for that moment to come, for that little miracle, I will return to that clementine that came to sit on my table and look so luscious that I just had to open it up and find it beautiful and want to paint it. And with paint on and in my hands I will once again hope for another kind of miracle and a different kind of creation.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Different Kind of Portrait


Come December, despite the sensory overload of holiday lights, music, food and good will to all mankind, something like a lowly piece of fruit sitting alone on the table can reach deeply into one's psyche. The simplicity, the brilliance of a clementine reached mine.

It started innocently enough. I was hungry. I grabbed a piece of fruit, got half way through peeling it when something distracted me. I came back to see this lovely thing begging to be acknowledged. Vulnerable, half exposed, cradled by its shell. A photo snapped before it was devoured. The result:

Sunbathing Clementine © Lissa Banks 2014
The first gave me a taste for more. And the more I worked with the subject the more I found myself imbuing them with human traits. They were alternatively straightforward and welcoming...

Miss Clementine © Lissa Banks 2014
...generous and kind...

Open Hand © Lissa Banks 2015

...seductive and secretive...
Temptress © Lissa Banks 2015

...and jealous.

Gossip © Lissa Banks 2015
Yes, I was a bit anthropomorphic I admit. But they seemed to have personalities in their little bumps and dimples, blemishes and brightness. They became my companions and when I finished one I rushed to start another. I might keep going as they are imminently enjoyable. That is, if I don't polish off my subject matter before their season ends.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Best Husband

Christmas in June

When we were finalizing the new front yard landscaping plans he surprised me by asking if I ever did commissions. I said I did. He had an idea.

His wife was extraordinarily proud of the entrance to their nursery and greenhouses, and proud she should be...zinnias, catmint, marigolds, salvia, black-eyed Susans and more burst from the ground in an amazing array. People stop their cars on the side of the road to take pictures. I suspect Mr. Walsh was proud of the display as well. He asked me to capture it in a painting to surprise his wife with for Christmas. I think it was June.
Walsh's Greenhouse ©  Lissa Banks 2014
I have but limited experience with husbands of my own but my impression is that they seldom start shopping for the holidays in the summer!

Now that Christmas 2014 is beginning to fade into our memories (though probably still present around our waists), I'm happy to be able to share Jerry's gift to his wife with you. What a pleasure it was to be able to be a part of his thoughtfulness and devotion.