Pecan is a painter and scenic artist. Her paintings feature toys and robots and gnomes in unlikely situations-- while her larger-scale creations have brought the weird to everything from Burning Man to Union Square to her own front porch. Pecan is also a member of SCUL, the local art-bike gang. If you like what you see, you can pick up some of her prints at her Etsy shop.
Tim Devin exchanged a few emails with her this summer about what she does, and why she does it.
How would you describe what you do?
Mostly, I work as a scenic artist for films, television, and theater. But when I’m not working, I’m painting in my studio.
Both painting approaches are very different. As a scenic artist, I paint surfaces. I make wood to look like marble or plaster to look like brick. It’s very methodical work and involves a lot of layers of paint and glazes.
My personal work is very different. It’s a whimsical world of toys coming to life beyond the constraints of their dusty shelf. The process is more direct and simple. Random ideas occur to me, depending on the toy, that make me smile. I’m drawn to certain toys that have life, and color and a spark of a story.
When I do sit down to do an oil painting, I pull together some references either from photos I’ve taken or from life. Then I systematically mix the colors and lay them in. No glazing. Bam!
Any past projects you’d like to talk about in more detail?
There are two projects that transformed my role as a scenic painter to an artist.
One was the Tiger Head Mural at the Somerville Arts Council’s Ignite festival. That was one my first freelance scenic jobs that was based on my own illustration/design. It represented years of learning on the job as a painter and a carpenter.
The next was the first painting that brought my toys to life. It was Panda SMASH! My largest most detailed oil painting at the time. I had this little metal Panda drummer and a sudden flash of him drumming away at the top of some buildings, bigger than life. It was a challenge to paint, because most of the time I will finish a painting in one sitting, but this forced me to pace it out over several days.
You also put up fun installations on your front porch, which my son and I both really love. Can you tell me about them?
Yes. I started doing this as a Holiday decoration thing. It turns out I’m quite a traditionalist. It started with a mustache on the porch that grew a monocle on an upstairs window. I made this with plywood, Christmas lights, a hula-hoop and rope lights. Much of the supplies were items from around the house. For Halloween, I decorated my porch as a giant mouth with a tongue and sharp teeth using red fabric and polystyrene and a staple gun.
Then, to draw people into my house for Somerville Open Studios, I’ve decorated with planets, stars, UFOs and even a giant robot that is eating you as you enter, made from painted cardboard or foamboard that gets sealed in shellac.
Now my husband, Brad Carreiro, who is a wood worker, has done the last couple installations. One of a Squid fighting with garden gnomes and the most recent dragon head with lights. Oddly enough, the Squid is now installed at Aeronaut over the bar.
Is there anything new you’re working on? Or an event that’s coming up?
Honestly, I’ve been super busy prepping for Burning Man. My art usually is more scenic for the event. Our camp is called BRING A CUP, and I’ve painted two 8ft tall plywood chalices for our entrance.
Our camp focuses mainly on home brew beer and bicycles. We’ll be pedaling our own handmade wooden bar around the desert. A good portion of our camp are SCUL pilots, the rest home brewers, and makers, so it makes for a magical combination. Plus our personal camp theme is about being Wizards and questing...also magical. My contribution is as Camp Lead and Art Director, so it eats a lot of my time.
But I do have a few oil paintings lined up. A few more portraits of robots I bought at a local toy show, a long piece of an original series Star Trek squirt gun, and a portrait of myself in space. I’m also hoping to do a robot marching through Somerville, but I haven’t taken the right picture of the city yet. I want to find a perspective from the top of a building looking equal to the robot, which is a challenge.
Also, I have two shows coming up. One is hanging at Lord Hobo in Cambridge right now till the end of September. Then it looks like I’ll get to put some art in Bloc 11 in Union for their Halloween show.
Why do you do what you do? What’s something you get out of it?
I paint from a sense of identity. I’ve been an artist for as long as I remember. My mother is an artist and so was my grandmother.
There is this urge to create images and accurately. It’s not always easy to find the motivation to sit down and paint, but it is pretty easy to come up with ideas that perpetuate to the next idea.
Mostly, painting feeds that need to express myself. As someone who is primarily shy, I get to shine into other people’s life, make them smile, and still hide behind my curtain.
What got you involved in doing what you do? Is there someone or something that was important in getting you on your way?
Well, I’ve always made art. I even went to art school. But I took a long break from painting after school. I used to bother me that I wasn’t painting, but now looking back I see that I had lost my inspiration.
Luckily, soon after, I found myself in a couple communities that support art. First there’s SCUL, a local bicycle gang, and also where I got my name Pecan from. This group is silly and imaginative, and they ride their bicycles around town as if they are rockets in space.
Then there’s the Burning Man community. I was working in theater as a scenic painter, and I received a grant from the Firefly Arts Collective to build a 30 foot rocket ship out of PVC and nuslin and make it the entrance to our Home Brew camp. It was installed at a local Burning Man event called Firefly. But to do so, I asked to be part-time at work for a few weeks in our theaters off season. It was then that I got the bug. I needed to be painting, and creating my work and not painting for designers and their sets. Soon after I quit my job and started working as a freelance scenic, so I would have stretches of time to paint my spaceships, and toys, and space.
When I wasn’t working, I disciplined myself to paint. Even if I wasn’t in the mood, I would set up a toy and paint it. Or I’d have friends come over and let me paint their portrait. It was like an exercise. And as I painted, the ideas poured in and the toys came to life.
Any thoughts on the local Somerville, or Boston-area creative scene?
The city of Boston and Somerville, especially, have a great creative scene. The communities of SCUL and Burning Man are very supportive and celebrate the arts passionately. I would be a very different artist without their influence and support, I suspect.
I haven’t got my foot in the door yet, but one of my goals is to switch from a freelance scenic artist to a fine artist. But at this stage, between living costs and a lack of galleries interested in my kind of whimsical work, I suspect I’ll have to look elsewhere for that transition. Right now I’m gearing my work more towards sci-fi/comic conventions for my audience. I’ve learned that folks these days rarely buy original art, but will gladly buy prints.