Creative Minds Art History Project – Vincent Van Gogh

Hello all! This is my first post I’ll be doing on my Creative Minds class projects I am leading with my program this semester. Each week we will be learning about a well known artist from the past or present, and completing a project based on their process and style. I work primarily with adults with disabilities or mental health issues, and though we will not only study artists with disabilities, mental health issues, addiction, or chronic illness, these individuals will be a special focus.

Today I’ll be walking you through an enjoyable and easy project inspired by the art of Vincent Van Gogh. Being the Coordinator as well as an instructor for an inclusive recreational arts program, there is always a wide range of abilities and experience levels in each class. I am excited to make art history accessible and fun for all ages and abilities. Vincent Van Gogh has always been one of my favorite historical artists, so of course he had to be the artist I chose for week 1. I know that he’s a lot of people’s favorite, but I have always felt a special kinship with him as we also happen to share the same birthday!

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His use of light, color, and movement through swirling, visible brushstrokes has become iconic and easily recognizable even to those with no knowledge of art. Also common knowledge are Van Gogh’s struggles with mental health throughout his life. He was blessed with a supportive and loving family member, his brother Theo, who financially supported him so that he could continue painting despite being unable to hold a job or make an income for himself. It seems his brother saw firsthand the transformative power of art, giving Van Gogh at least a few more days, months, years, or sometimes just moments of peace and joy than he would have experienced otherwise.

Oil paints are pricey, require copious amounts of time to complete a piece, need adequate ventilation that may not be available in all classrooms, and can be frustrating for beginning artists. So, we ditched the oil paints for oil pastels!

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The first step in our project was to make a simple outline in pencil first. Students were encouraged to be inspired by the provided images of Van Gogh’s most famous works, but not necessarily to copy. They could make a scene, a still life, a person or animal, or anything else that came to mind. They could then use the pastels to trace over their pencil outline, and add more lines in between to mimic Van Gogh’s iconic style. Students could fill their paper with as many swirls, stripes, or dashes as they wanted as long as they still left white space behind, because next the magic happens!

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After their pastel outline was completed, students could fill in their different areas with watercolor washes, and watch the oil pastel repel the water. Though not a requirement, this technique is especially amazing to watch when washing darker watercolors over bright or light pastel. One of the students even commented that it was “like magic”. This process is simple enough to be enjoyed by students of all abilities with minimal frustration, but also fun for more advanced students. Pro tip: make sure you have enough water in your paints! If your watercolors are brushed on too dry, they won’t repel as strongly. Also, be sure to use paint brushes with soft bristles. Stiff, scratchy brushes are harder on the oil pastel and will not give as neat of a result.

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There is a common narrative that Van Gogh suffered so much because while he was alive his art never became famous and people wouldn’t buy his paintings. I don’t know about that … I am a Doctor Who fan, and for those of you unfamiliar with the show it’s about time travel. Who would have thought, but this whimsical sci-fi TV show ended up moving me emotionally more than any work of cinema I’ve ever seen, and I watch a lot of movies! In my favorite episode, our adventurers go back in time to pay a visit to Vincent Van Gogh. They end up whisking him away to the future, where he can see all his paintings on display in a museum, and hear his fame being lauded. It is hoped that after seeing this, Van Gogh’s spirit will be renewed, and once he is returned to his own time he will not end his life as he did in history. They hope that when they visit that same museum again after their adventure, there will be walls of new Van Gogh paintings, having altered the past by showing Van Gogh his future. That does not end up being the case.

We put so much emphasis in our culture on fame, money, talent, and popularity that it is hard to accept that these things are not a magical panacea to fix all of our problems, and that sometimes these things are not enough to make us happy.

We need to keep reaching out to each other. As this episode concludes,

“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”

Make it your goal to add to the pile of good things for the people you encounter each day.

A student that had been reluctant about this project at first because they don’t draw or paint ended up having a blast, saying they felt like they were getting to play and be a kid again. A lot of times, that is exactly what art is about! As Van Gogh himself said,  If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. I hope some of you will decide to play and try this project yourself at home! Be sure to check back in the following weeks for more fun project inspiration.

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I’m Back With Some New Art!

This first piece in a new series was a long time coming … I am obsessed with working small, and tend to work in 11×14 or maybe 16×20 max, and wanted to start doing pieces that were at least 18×24 or larger to allow me to include more detail and further develop the background in my pieces. My new series, Dwell, really taps into my background of interior design study. These pieces will contemplate how our environment affects us, but also how we interact with and affect it. The word dwell also has a double meaning, not just the physical space where we live but the places we create inside us that we allow our mind to dwell in. How are these psychological spaces affecting us, and how much control do we have over them or they over us?

“Dwell In Possibility” was a challenge for me because it involved a lot of brown, a color I literally never use in art. I tend to create pieces that are mostly grayscale tones with pops of bright color, and gray just would not have been right for the earthy feeling I wished to evoke. The other challenge to this piece was that I was creating an interior that was not very attractive or intricate … the remains of a decaying building, dirt floor, rough wood paneled walls, weathered plaster ceiling once grand but now stripped of any color or design … The only furnishing an abandoned, sun bleached chair frame.

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I did a lot of layering of different media overtop one another, and used my clear prismacolor pencil blender for the first time in my entire life. I usually use a white pencil to blend, but this time I couldn’t use an opaque blender because I wanted to be able to still see the underlayer of watercolor through the blended pencil. I left the flowers and hair purely impressionistic watercolor as opposed to the detail in the background and the model’s face. I didn’t use as much dimensional mixed media as usual, not wanting to add too much clutter, and stuck to a lace fabric overlay on her dress and clusters of beads for the centers of the poppy flowers.

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The closer you look, you will see there is a lot more going on than just a smiling woman holding a bouquet. She is already stationed in an odd setting, an old deteriorated building. She is surrounded by decay, including uprooted, dying plants. Even some of the flowers in her hands are dead or dying, but they are slowly coming back to life as she grasps onto them, holds them and nurtures them. Behind her through the door there is a cavern of light, where a grand tree has taken hold. There are no leaves yet, hardly any soil for his roots to grasp onto, yet he is still alive somehow. Robins circle around, a bird that symbolically means rebirth. Change and growth are always possible.

As you can also see, I can’t seem to put down the metallic gold acrylic lately! At work, my students always want to cover everything they make in metallics and glitter, which often makes me shake my head, but I can understand the temptation ;). Speaking of which, I am starting a new class called Creative Minds where each week students will be learning about an accomplished artist of the past or present, and completing a small project based on that artist’s iconic style with a focus on artists with disabilities and mental health. I will be sharing my projects as well as some of the students’ interpretations, so be on the look out for a new project post each week! I am hoping some of you reading this will want to try it at home yourself. It’s always fun to play :D!

Monster High Doll Repaint – Peacock Punk

I mentioned that after my first Monster High Doll repaint, I had become addicted and immediately was flooded with ideas for future dolls. I wanted to do a doll where I altered the hair next. A lot of re-painters remove the hair entirely and use doll wigs, but for now I want to focus on using supplies I already have in my bountiful storage. This Draculara doll’s hair was a big ‘ol mess, practically beyond saving. I’d been wanting to do a doll with short hair, so she fit the bill perfectly.

After I’d taken her hair out of it’s ponytail, I took a deep breath and started chopping. I was never one to cut my dolls’ hair as a child, being very protective of them and keeping them in as pristine condition as possible, so this was a bit painful but I knew it was for art’s sake ;). Once I combed the remaining hair out, I was left with mostly the pink with spikes of black in between. I used fray check to mold the hair into the style I desired.

The perfect feather shapes were cut from the leftover fabric of a dress I made years ago (With tons of help from Mom. I am not a sewer.), using a funky vintage pattern from the 70s. I have a bit of what has always been lovingly referred to in my family as “tactile stress”, and so I never ended up wearing this dress a ton because the elastic wrists and extra fabric flopping around on the sleeves irritated the living hell out of me. I ended up eventually selling it to a very excited new owner, sans clothing neurosis.

I left the original skirt underneath for volume, and layered fabric feather shapes with synthetic feathers underneath, accenting  with tiny crystals here and there. There are also feathers embedded into her hair, on her shoes, and hanging from her ears as earrings. Her original face was removed with acetone, and her new face was painted with both metallic and matte acrylics blended with matte medium. I used a gloss medium over the eyes and lips to give them a wet look. Her eyes are also circled with crystals, and a feather pattern grows from her hair onto the side of her face. Her tiny nails and toes are painted to match her lipstick. I’m really digging the 80s rocker /slash/ anthropomorphic bird-human hybrid look this little lady has going on.

I also have one of the werewolf (Clawdeen) dolls, and I am pretty sure my next doll is going to be an Egyptian cat deity, so look out!

These dolls and other fun creative objects can be found in my ebay shop! Here’s to (literally) making new friends!

Artists To Know: Beyond The Photo

It’s been awhile since my last Artists To Know post, and today I wanted to focus on photography. I have always been interested in photography, but never took the craft further than just “playing around”, and don’t really do any artistic photography anymore today. My favorite type of photography has always been work that shows us more than what we can already see in front of us, photography that is not objective but that injects part of the artist into what it is they capture (or create, as in the case of our first artist who uses found photos for collage). I hope this post gives you some Sunday afternoon inspiration, as these artists did for me!

Guy Catling

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Catling is a graphic designer from the UK who works primarily in collage. He is known for his use of old black and white photos, especially of somber subjects such as war photography, which he gives new life through the juxtaposition of jarringly bright, cheerful patterns. As someone who loves pattern, his images just plain make me happy when I look at them, and give me quite the urging to dig out a book of old wallpaper samples and go to town making something amazing!

Tawny Chatmon

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A self proclaimed “army brat”, Chatmon did a lot of traveling as a kid and had resided in 3 different continents by the age of 12. Once settled in the US, she turned more in the creative direction of theater. She didn’t start getting into photography until her early 20s, when she was gifted a camera at 19 and through self teaching and expirimentation saw an opportunity to make a living through the lens. After losing her father to a battle with cancer in 2010, Chatmon’s portrait photography became not only a career but a way to communicate and process emotions, an art. What first drew me to her work was the image above, part of her series titled “Deeply Embedded”. The composition and heavy use of pattern on the clothing reminded  me a bit of Gustav Klimt, one of my favorites from art history. Chatmon writes about this series on her website, “Deeply Embedded was created during a time where I continued to come across negativity centered around natural black hair & styles. Anger followed by frustration and sadness forced me to refocus that energy into creating work to speak for me as our words fell upon deaf ears.” There are many different forms of beauty in our world, and photography is the perfect medium to capture that fact.

Stefan Sagmeister

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Stefan Sagmeister is an Austrian graphic designer and typographer. He currently works in the US and is known for his work in advertising and album covers, for which he has won 3 Grammy awards. Much of his personal work centers around the elusive achievement of happiness, conveyed through statistics, personal experimentation, and design. Though I myself am very skeptical that there is a magical formula or set of steps that will universally make every human happy (I am a big proponent of “If it’s not true for one, it’s not true for all”.), I do enjoy art that gets viewers into the head of the artist and visually shows their thought processes.

Aydın Büyüktaş

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Aydın is a Turkish artist who combines images he captures with drones to create mind-bending multi-angle landscapes. It is evident in his portfolio that special attention is paid to the use of pattern and line as he composes his imaginary worlds. I would have never thought of using drones for art, and it is fascinating to see what can be done with this relatively new medium.

If you know an artist you’d like to be featured (or are an artist yourself!) feel free to share with me. I love discovering new creatives!

 

 

 

June ArtSnacks Unboxing!

My ArtSnacks Challenge illustration this month was created using past profile pictures as a reference, an homage to my love of eccentric fashion and costumes year-round, and my lifelong fascination with what creates identity.

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I mentioned in a previous post how art has been an important tool of expression for me throughout my life. Turning myself into the things I wanted to be at the moment as if I was just another blank sheet of paper was another part of this. It always boggled even my own mind how in school I was too embarrassed to even stand up and go throw something away in the trash in the middle of a class lest I draw attention to myself, but I’d wander about town on the weekends in full zombie makeup in the middle of July and not feel a bit of trepidation. When people would talk about identity, or “groups” both in grade school and now, I have never known what to say for myself. I’ve never felt that I strongly identify with one certain label or category in any area of my life, but am instead either nothing or everything all at once. Most likely, I am the latter. It was fun doing something that was more of an actual, personal “art journal” page, and also reliving many fun memories through fashion of years past! As an adult at work all day, for the most part now I either wear meeting clothes or messy-art-class-clothes :-/.

In this box I received a:

I appreciated the sharpener not only because of the snazzy ArtSnacks exclusive color that is very close to what I’ve just painted the front door on my house, but also because I had previously only had cheapie sharpeners akin to what kids bring in their elementary school pencil case. This is admittedly odd for someone who works so much with colored pencils! They had me at their automatic stop function as I tend to be rough on pencils and am always breaking the leads. The fact that you can sharpen the wood and lead separately for the perfect point is also a very unique feature. I like it!

The SumoGrip eraser was another favorite. I’ve mentioned before how nothing beats Pentel Click Erasers in my mind, but I think my old friend may have finally met its match! I was freaked out at first by the black color, expecting it to leave dark smudges on the paper but it left no traces behind, and did not require a lot of pressure or abrasion to lift graphite from the paper. I’m impressed.

The pencil was also nice, and I can’t say I have any complaints but I will always be a mechanical pencil girl overall. Still, if I ever need to reach for a traditional pencil this will not be a poor choice.

I love brush markers, and the one that came with this box was no exception. What I noticed right away is the lack of bleeding for an alcohol marker. Another bonus is the fact that you can replace nibs and refill the ink in each marker base rather than having to replace the entire body when it runs out. Excellent performance – I will definitely be looking into buying some more of these.

Lastly, the Millennium pen. Longevity was a big focus of these pens which is very important to me as I don’t just sketch with pens, but incorporate ink drawing into many of my finished fine art pieces as well. It made a nice line, and did dry far quicker than the other pens I usually use which helped avoid smudging, and it did not bleed at all when the marker was applied. Another win!

This is my last unboxing for a bit since I only got a 6 month subscription at first to try it out. (I also need to get a chance to really explore these supplies in more than just my art journal and see if I want to get a full set of any of them to use in my large scale art!) All in all I have enjoyed having ArtSnacks as my first experience with subscription boxes, and have felt there was great value in the supplies that were sent each month. I’d definitely recommend.

Happy drawing!

Doll Repaints – My Addictive New Hobby!

I first heard of the art of doll repainting when I came upon an article about Tree Change Dolls. An Australian mother, doll lover, and recycling enthusiast had begun repainting discarded dolls found at secondhand shops and giving them a new life. Word got out, and her hobby took off in a bigger way than she ever expected. She primarily works with Bratz dolls, giving them her signature make-unders to make the dolls bare a closer resemblance to the kids that likely play with them.

By the time Bratz dolls came out I was already in 7th grade and getting out of playing with fashion dolls, though I did still covet the collectible, for-display Barbies with elaborate costumes and often retro styling. Still, I always thought Bratz dolls’ over-the-top iridescent makeup and decidedly not vanilla clothing was a lot of fun. These girls were definitely not going to a yacht club or garden party. Dolls for girls do tend to either look like either teens/young adults or babies, with a curious lack of dolls that resemble the age girls that play with fashion dolls usually are, so I can definitely still get behind what this mom is doing. Also, watch the video – she is just having a blast, hoping to make people happy along the way, and her enthusiasm for her craft is contagious :).

I very recently was commissioned by a regular ebay customer and art doll collector to draw an ACEO illustration of one of her Monster High Doll repaints she purchased from another artist. Monster High Dolls by Mattel are another line that came after my childhood, but that I always wished I had been young enough to play with. Their colorful, surreal appearance coupled with the fact that they use a wide variety of facial sculpts (i.e. not just offering the same basic mold in different skin tones and eye colors) attracted me right away. The more I looked up other repaints on ebay and etsy, the more I was convinced I absolutely had to try this myself. I bought a lot of 4 previously loved dolls, and stayed up until after midnight working on the bulk of my first doll, originally a MH Operetta model, completely lost to time.

I used nail polish remover to clear off all the factory paint, and gave her hair a good brushing and a new ponytail. I used a translucent metallic copper paint first to add shading and give her the look of a fantastical creature made of a merging of metal and skin.  I dry brushed more heavily over the side of her body covered in the embossed swirls to emphasize this unique design feature, using a clear matte medium along the edges of the wet paint to blend. I mixed a peachy acrylic with matte medium to add blush to her cheeks, and then used acrylic on her eyes and lips, covering both with a gloss medium to give them a moist, realistic appearance. I used a detail brush to paint her teeny tiny fingernails and toenails. I too love recycling, and used a variety of lace, ribbon, and cotton fabric scraps to craft her gown. The velvety strawberries and leaves are from a lot of vintage millinery florals I’ve acquired, some from ebay, some from antique sales. And thus, The Princess of Strawberries was born!

My style definitely leans more towards the fantasy couture, and this doll is a display-only unlike the creations of the fun mom above. Maybe for one of my others I will make a more every-day version for play, who knows!

My princess is for sale, and you can see her in more detail here.

May Artsnacks Unboxing!

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This month’s Artsnacks box came with something scary – a calligraphy pen! Calligraphy pens are my mortal enemy, mostly because I don’t know how to use them properly. I played around a bit, and still don’t know how to use it properly and mainly treated it like a normal liner but – hey look! – it’s a tiger!

Now for the breakdown…

In my May box, I received a:

flat800x800075f-u1So, first the scary thing which is the Copic Multiliner. I’m sure it would be a fantastic product if I knew anything about calligraphy, and that is about all I can say as I have no basis by which to judge calligraphy pens. (Appropriate image by Nathan Moore on Redbubble.)

Now onto the Tombow MONO Graph pencil … I have professed my undying love for Tombow in past unboxings. This pencil is unique because you don’t have to push a button for the lead to extend, you just shake it and then click a lock on the side when you have the amount of lead you want … Which means you still have to push a button haha. I found this feature a bit useless and gimmicky, but it is a nice pencil otherwise and claims to feature the most popular eraser in Japan. I can corroborate that this pencil has a damn fine eraser.

ddSpeaking of erasers, the next product was the KUM Correct-Stick eraser. I just now realized this product was hiding and didn’t make it into my picture, but here is what it looks like …  This eraser did work really nicely and had a comfortable ergonomic grip, but I feel like it will lose its precise, pointed shape with use. As far as fine detail erasers I think my favorite will always be Pentel’s Click Erasers.

The Faber-Castell Big Brush Pen was my favorite product in this box.  The color is smooth and bold, probably owing to the fact that the ink used is India Ink. Though it was great for filling in large areas, the brush tip made it perfect for filling in details and making thin strokes as well. I struggle with sensitivity to strong smells so for me an added bonus was that this pen didn’t stink like alcohol markers do! I will definitely be getting more of these.

Last is the Liquitex Paint Marker. Not surprisingly given the quality of Liquitex paint, this marker was excellent. Of all the paint markers I have been sent since January, this one was my favorite. I liked that it didn’t look like solid acrylic paint when applied to paper, but being water based had a degree of translucency to it, probably because I am partial to watercolors over acrylics. Overall a decent box, while not necessarily my favorite one thus far.

Now, for those of you awaiting pictures of the progress on my Painted Piano Project, wait no longer …

It’s getting there, but still more to do – Guess what I’ll be up to this weekend? 🙂