What Does a Chef Look Like? by Joan Chamberlain

I have a beef about how chefs are depicted on products in consumer markets. I think most people know by now that chefs aren't rotund, jolly gentlemen that wear tall white hats, have little black mustaches, and work in kitchens with black and white checkerboard floors. So why are those the only images I see in kitchen stores - on dish towels, cutting boards, platters and cruets? That's such an antiquated notion of a chef's world.

Chefs, serious chefs, wear white, denim, black, all colors of the rainbow. They may have tattoos, wear bracelets and rings. They may have a bandana on their head, maybe a white "chef's" hat, but usually don't wear any type of headdress. And they're certainly not all rotund, or gentlemen, or jolly :-) Chefs are women and men, flamboyant or modest, self-taught or with pedigrees.

They're serious artists and craftspeople, scientists and performance artists. I'd like to see that reflected in the images I see in kitchen stores. That's one of the driving forces behind my Hands series. I love to watch chefs and cooks of all kinds work. As many of us know, they make it look easy. The movements of their hands is practiced and precise. They can move in a blur or apply a garnish with a pair of tweezers to artistic perfection.

There is no one "look" of today's chef. So, I choose to draw their hands to honor their skill and reflect the qualities they share.


Remember the Feeling by Joan Chamberlain

My mixed-media piece commemorating the event.

Like hundreds of thousands of women and men around the world, I participated in the Women's March on January 21, 2017. I live in Dallas and didn't see much hype or promotion in the days preceding the march. So, I was surprised to see the (estimated) 7000 people who took part in the two-mile march on a cloudy day in Dallas, TX.

It was a happy event, full of empowering messages as well as the comical, irreverent, and lewd messages that made me appreciate just how creative people can be. I came away feeling energized and encouraged. I awoke the next morning with an overwhelming desire to create a piece of art to remind me of that feeling.

The first requirement I had for this piece was the color pink. Various hues of pink were immediately apparent at the march I took part in, as well as in the aerial shots of other marches around the globe - this sea of denim blue, dotted with pops of pink - like whitecaps on the ocean - moving along hypnotically. I thought of how often I see pink in nature - a sunset, canyon walls, and an endless supply of pink flowers.

I chose a dogwood branch because of its color and symbolic meaning - endurance. The struggle for equality has been one of endurance, no question.

Another important element I wanted to capture was the presence of placards, handwritten and irregular, but conveying important messages - of strength, solidarity, defiance. I chose to include positive messages of strength and inclusion that I strive to embrace. The phrases written on the palm are both personal and general, basic values and ideas I heard echoed throughout the day.

This artwork is composed of layers of hand-drawn and digitally generated images. The hand, dogwood branches, and most of the lettering are drawn and shaded by hand. It was then composed in layers in Photoshop so that I could move elements around and manipulate the size for printing.

Palm hatchwork.jpg

The final piece speaks to a happy day full of empowerment, inclusion, and energy. Those of us who feel lucky enough to be able to march were happy to represent those who couldn't.

Universe...I'd like to place an order by Joan Chamberlain

Recent events - a presidential election, for anyone who has just awoken from a cryogenic nap - have me reflecting on the fact that nothing is guaranteed. Part of my daily practice is to accept the reality that the day may hold surprises, good or bad, that will change one's anticipated trajectory. Without getting too far down the philosophical path, this heightened awareness has me thinking that it's time to put some thoughts into the public space. Attention universe, I have a dream that I need your help with.

Anyone who's familiar with my Hands Project, and if you aren't please click on that page when we're through here, knows that I am passionate about building a portfolio of drawings that focus on chef's hands. Do I have any idea what I want to do with it? No, not really, but I'm a firm believer in ready, fire, aim. Get started and correct as you go. Put it out there and see what develops.

So, here's what's developed. As it turns out, people like to look at drawings of chef's hands. That's part of the fun of sitting at the bar in a restaurant - watching the bartender deftly craft a wicked-good cocktail. If you're lucky and have a view into the kitchen, all the better. That got me thinking of how intriguing it would be to have a hand "portrait" gallery in a restaurant. Wake up, universe, this is the dream part.

So, picture it: You're at a restaurant, enjoying the delicious food and relaxing ambiance, and you notice a wall of handsomely framed sketches. You walk over to find that it's a gallery of hand sketches of their staff: the executive chef plating an appetizer, the sous chef ladling a savory soup into a tureen, the pastry chef piping a meringue onto a cookie sheet, the bartender stirring a seasonal cocktail, the sommelier uncorking a bottle of cabernet. Come on, that would grab your attention, right?

 Consider this my vision board. It's a mock-up of a potential gallery.

Consider this my vision board. It's a mock-up of a potential gallery.

What better way to honor the incredibly hard-working folks who create and serve the amazing food we eat at so many restaurants all over the world. In the hands of skilled chefs, the creations that end up on our plates are art and science, combined with skill, love, and hard-ass work.

Are there restaurants out there who "get" my vision? Who wants to be the first to create a gallery of beautiful sketches that celebrate their chefs? I'm open to a surprise.

Art & Food (not necessarily in that order) by Joan Chamberlain

Returning to Lark on the Park to capture a final photo of my chalkboard mural, I was focused on getting a good shot. And I did, but I also had one of the best meals in recent memory. So this post is equal parts art and food.

Sitting at our table, looking out over a room full of diners surrounded by chalk art, gave me a deep sense of satisfaction. This is a lovely experience - excellence in art meets excellence in dining. It doesn't hurt that Lark, framed by floor to ceiling windows, overlooks Klyde Warren Park, which provides a green belt of foliage on the edge of downtown Dallas.

Okay, so we agree that art in restaurants is a good thing. Now let's talk food. Seared diver scallops with black rice and mango, rich with a salty and sweet broth of coconut milk and scallop juices. It was divine. I ate every last bit of it, which is something I almost never do. That was in addition to a healthy "taste" of one of Roger's lamb chops. A special item that particular night, it was equally delicious - savory, meaty bits on organic red quinoa with juicy grape tomatoes. Oh my. So glad I wore my stretchy palazzo pants.

If you live in Dallas or have plans to visit, don't cheat yourself out of the chance to experience Lark on the Park. Bottom line - we'll be eating there again. And I hope I have an opportunity to draw there again :-)

Creating Hands that are Larger than Life by Joan Chamberlain

My "Piping" image at Lark on the Park.

Drawing with chalk on a mural-sized chalkboard. If that doesn't bring out the kid in you, nothing will. Sunday, July 10, the day seven artists started a fresh batch of chalkboard murals at Lark on the Park, a restaurant in Dallas, Texas. I'd been looking forward to this event since March, when I was approved to participate as one of those artists.

That's me in the white shirt. Using a level to mark off my grid.

I first became aware of the Lark blackboards when Roger and I ate dinner there one night in February. On the back of each menu is a roster of the featured blackboards and a little bit about each artist. My first thought was "What a commitment to art!" It is even more apparent to me now that I see what an effort it is to set up the scaffolding, prepare the boards, and ask everyone who works there to go about their work while ducking around scaffolds and tarps. They are pros at it - brunch service is carried on seamlessly, and there's an atmosphere of happy energy as artists, diners, and restaurant employees share in the excitement of the event.

The chalkboards vary in size, mine was 6.25'h x 11.8'w. Having done my share of murals, I decided to use a scalable grid to transfer my drawing to the board. I started drawing the grid a little before 9 a.m. and completed the grid by 10 a.m. The drawing I chose to use is one of my favorites, titled Wendy Piping, that I converted to a digital chalkboard effect on paper.

The original sketch, and the reversed out chalkboard version.

Transferring the drawing onto the board, using a scalable grid for reference. Each square on the board is 7 5/16".

Transferring the design was simple, but no matter how carefully you transfer the details, there are always areas that require you to step back and look at the image as a whole. Angles and lines are easily distorted when you are only looking at a small segment of the entire piece.

Erasing some of the grid to clean up the image.

All of the other artists present had done boards for Lark before, so I picked up a few tips by watching their processes. For instance, we all know that a wet rag makes a great eraser, but it hadn't occurred to me to bring some small brushes to use as erasers for cleaning up around lettering or in tight spaces. I wrapped up my work by 5 p.m., knowing that I would go back in the morning and take a look at it with fresh eyes.

Roughing in the title for the piece.

In my next post, I'll have the final images with the scaffolds and tarp removed. And like most artists, I'm sure I'll see something I wish I had done differently.

My friend, and talented photographer, Alfonso Quiroz, capturing the process.

How you do anything.... by Joan Chamberlain

You know the saying "How you do anything is how you do everything". I remind myself of this almost every day. Along with an abridged quote I have hanging in my work space "Put all that you are into the least that you do", these are as close to a mission statement as I've ever had for myself. Some may think either statement is the mantra of a perfectionistic, over-achieving, pain-in-the-ass. I like to think I'm much more likeable than any of those adjectives suggest, so I would like to explain what I find so compelling about those statements.

Doing each thing to the best of ones ability actually simplifies life. It removes the stress of decision making. Example: I have an idea for a drawing. I want to sketch a cluster of tomatoes next to a cook's hands. Tomato vines - they're kind of scratchy and irregular, right? Do they branch evenly or do they alternate as they come off of the main branch? I could get up and walk into the other room to check, but I'm comfortable on the patio. Does it really matter? Who's going to notice or care? They're just in the background anyway. I've just wasted time and energy debating with myself over whether my art deserves my best effort. And there's the rub - some equate doing the best or right thing with more effort.

Tomatoes & Vine, ©2015 Joan Chamberlain

Here's the alternative to that scenario: I want to sketch a cluster of tomatoes. Get up and go get the cluster sitting on the kitchen counter. End of discussion. If it seems like a silly example, you probably won't have to look long for one in your own life. We bargain with ourselves many times a day. Making a decision to always give your best effort is one decision vs. an endless string of should I..., if I..., is it absolutely necessary questions.

I've practiced dentistry for 35 years. Some time ago I decided that I would do whatever it took for a good outcome and a happy patient. If a crown almost fits, but not quite, whether the patient would ever know it or not, it gets returned to the lab for a redo. Yes, a remake cuts into the profit for that procedure - both in actual costs and chair time - but it's non-negotiable. I take all the bargaining out of the mix and just answer the question "Does it fit?". If not, I redo it and move on. I know patients appreciate the acknowledgment and effort, and I don't go home with nagging doubts.

So, I do my best to bring all that I am to everything that I do. The beauty of it is I'm still discovering what "all that I am" means. I'm enjoying the discovery and I hope it shows in my work.

Going Gray by Joan Chamberlain

Still smiling after "going gray".

Roughly 18 months ago, I decided to let my natural hair color grow out. I had experimented with omitting a band of hair around my hairline each time I applied Clairol's Natural Medium Auburn to my roots. I wanted to see exactly how much gray I had. When I realized that my untreated hair was 75% white, I decided that I liked that and would stop coloring it. I was almost 60 years old at the time and beginning to feel a certain liberation, maybe even a touch of rebellion, from societal expectations. My partner, Roger, was completely on board with my decision.

Afraid of looking like a prison inmate while the roots grew out, I appealed to my hairdresser to ease the transition. She high-lighted and low-lighted my hair with her expert touch, and I was on my way. Since my hair is shoulder length, it took several cuttings and colorings to eliminate the fading auburn color. Now that my hair is almost 100% natural, it's evident that it's mostly salt around my face, and mostly pepper from the crown back. I love it and I'm happy that I chose to face my age with loving eyes.

Reactions from other people have been immensely interesting. There are the women, mostly my age, who smile broadly when they see me and celebrate my new look. Then there are those who fight back a look of mild horror, whom I believe truly can't comprehend why any woman would choose to look "older". And there are the men, who almost universally applaud my moxie.

So what, exactly, does all of this "going gray" have to do with art? I was returning from my first Surtex exhibit in 2015 (an annual trade show in NYC where artists show their art to manufacturers for licensing purposes) when a memory popped into my head. I recall, as a child, being fascinated with the drawings of the old masters - the studies they did of hands, feet, heads - as they prepared for a painting. Here, on a flight out of NYC, I wanted to draw studies of hands, like the old masters. Not for paintings, but just for themselves. Okay, wait a minute. You can't do that, you're doing this licensing thing - drawing intensely colorful images of beautiful fruits and vegetables, leaves and patterns - and now you want to do a 180° and start doing charcoal sketches of hands? Who wants to hang pictures of hands on their wall? Who wants a drawing of hands on their tableware? That's crazy talk.

Surtex 2015, showcasing images and designs for art licensing

Initially, I started exploring with charcoal on gray paper, applying orange or green or aubergine to a small portion of the composition, focusing on the feeling of discovery that I get in the garden, beyond the sheer delight of color. I started drawing hands, too. Chefs' hands, cooks' hands, baristas' hands. All the people who prepare our food, who fascinate me with their skill and technique. I want more hands to draw. More grays, more buffs, more black and whites. Less dazzle, more depth.

What does going gray have to do with my art? I'm coming home. To the artist I once was, fascinated by the simple elegance of charcoal sketches of rumpled cloth and the architecture of the human body. Emboldened by the face I see as the color drains from my hair. I've gone gray, but I'm becoming more vibrant and I'm making some of the most satisfying art of my life.