Sonia Delaunay – Creative Minds Art History Project

I live in Michigan, and we have been having some wild weather over the past couple of weeks, including over 10 snow days! Since I teach a couple art classes in the program I run in addition to coordinating all the goings on, I still have to get work done on snow days, just without my fun project break :(. I was excited to finally get to host my classes again this week and share a long awaited project with my group! This week’s artist was Sonia Delaunay.

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Sonia Delaunay was an abstract artist and designer who not only painted but worked in fabric and costume design, and in 1964 became the first living female artist to have a retrospective exhibition at The Louvre in Paris!

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The literal geometry she brought to her most famous costume work for the play The Gas Heart by avante garde poet Tristan Tzara is just fabulous.

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You know you’ve got a good thing going if David Bowie is on board! He wore a getup inspired by her cubist suit when he performed on Saturday Night Live in 1979.

Remembered most for her paintings, a lot of her fashion work gets glazed over which is a shame, because it is her fashion and costumes that I personally find the most interesting. Delaunay’s fashion work was revolutionary at the time because she didn’t just take her paintings and hang them on bodies… Her designs for clothing were specifically configured to work with women’s body shapes, and the clothing themselves was functionally designed for movement, not decoration. Come to think of it, this may still be considered revolutionary today! Given this, it was only fitting that our class project be something wearable. Inspired by Delaunay’s colorful, geometric art and design, my class created fabric collage necklaces.

I am all for any chance to upcycle! Discarded leather upholstery samples were cut into boomerang shapes to be used as a base for the collage bib necklaces. I pre-selected fabric for the students to choose from that meshed with the inspiration artist’s colorful, abstract style. All of my students have some form of disability, and a couple struggle with dexterity. Providing prepared shapes cut from matte board for the students to trace gave them a helpful guide to encourage project success and allow them to be able to work independently. They were also encouraged to look for shapes in the fabrics’ patterns that they could follow, as one did with a large red flower. Regular ballpoint ink pens can be used to trace the shapes on the back of the fabric. Fabric scissors were used to then cut out the shapes. Shapes were arranged on the base, and then students used a junky brush to paint tacky glue on the back of their fabric pieces and press them down. Once dry, holes were punched in the ends and jewelry chain attached and voila! Ready to wear!

Lesson planning has been so inspirational to me in my own art and handmade journey, and has pushed me to think outside of the box and come up with ideas I never would have otherwise. Creating this project inspired me to work on my own statement necklaces using not only fabric but my velvet vintage millinery florals I love to collect from ebay and local antique fairs. These necklaces are for sale in my own ebay shop for $25. More designs coming soon!

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Artists To Know: Black History Month

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an Artists To Know post, and I wanted to take the opportunity for February to highlight some of my favorite black artists currently working – most new, some mentioned before. Enjoy, and be inspired!

Lina Iris Viktor

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Viktor is a British – Liberian artist based in New York who creates “queenly self portraits with a futuristic edge”. Everyone knows I’m a sucker for surreal, fantasy-like portraiture and after coming across the image above, I had an instant new favorite! Viktor studied film, photography, and design and uses all of these backgrounds to create her unique fantasy worlds that combine elements of painting, sculpture, photography, and performance. What makes her art so compelling to me is the contrast of seemingly opposite elements … Her works are detailed with a lot of pattern and texture to look at but the colors are kept minimal; many of the scenes she creates are contemporary or futuristic in appearance, but still contain elements of the classical. As well as a diverse study of art, she also had a diverse upbringing as far as culture, being raised in London by Liberian parents and also spending time living in Johannesburg, South Africa. Viktor aims to use her immersive scenes to convey a philosophical commentary on both a social and historical “preconception of blackness”. Her work is a category all its own.

Woodrow Nash

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Nash is an artist from Akron, OH who works in stoneware, earthenware, terracotta, and porcelain. He is most well known for his unique bust sculptures that capture an expression, depth, and personality that I have never felt before in this type of art. He began as an illustrator, working as a fashion illustrator in New York in the mid 70s and then returning to the Midwest to do technical illustrations. Just as he uses multiple materials for his sculptures, he also employs various firing methods from pit firing, to electric, to raku (one of my personal favorites!). He calls his style “African nouveau”, because although it is influenced by African cultural aesthetic he blends in elements of art nouveau, and his sculptures tend to appeal to a wider audience beyond just those of African heritage. Each gorgeous figure he creates has a story, and they draw you in instantly.

Kehinde Wiley

If you can’t already tell, creative portraiture is my thing. I love portraits that transport the viewer to a new place of the artists’ making, where every pattern that is used is not only decorative, but an element that is used to speak to the subject’s unique psychology. I have been a fan of Wiley’s unique, powerful style of portraiture for a long time, and was excited when he was chosen to do Obama’s official portrait. Possessing a MFA from Yale, he combines contemporary figures with aesthetic elements from the past, giving his portraits a surreal, timeless feel. One of his most recent projects for the Saint Louis Art Museum featured oil paintings of black men and women dressed in their own clothing, styled for their usual everyday, posed in traditional poses from European and American art history to make a comment about under-representation. The photographic realism coupled with ornate pattern and creative approach make it no wonder his work has garnered the acclaim it has. His art is a testament to the fact that it is possible for an artist to stay true to themselves and not follow the crowd, and still be successful.

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 experimentation 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.

Pierre Jean-Louis

 

I love art that plays with the merging of people and their environments, which is why I found this 26 year old artist’s work so inspiring. This self taught artist from New Jersey grew up in a deeply conservative religious household, but also a deeply creative one being the son of successful Haitian painter Bonaventure Jean-Louis. He moved beyond his roots with multimedia approaches, taking his inspiration from the beauty of the natural world that God has created, and with his series “Black Girl Magic”, explores specifically the beauty of natural hair. Models’ hair is transformed into forest, flowers, and galaxies, making a comment against exclusionary beauty standards.

I hope you will take the time to explore more of these artists’ amazing work. It was so hard to pick just one or two images to highlight!

February ArtSnacks Unboxing!

Hey guys! So, I was very candid about hating the end result of my ArtSnacks Challenge from last month, and this month threw me another curve ball with a medium I have consistently avoided when at all possible, even in high school and later college art classes: chalk pastels!

In my February box, I received a:

As I eluded to, I have never been a fan of pastels, charcoal, or any chalky medium mainly because I struggle to get the fine detail I want as someone who also likes to work small; I can’t keep it from getting where I don’t want while I’m working (messy, messy, messy!); and I have a weird thing where I just hate the feeling of it on my hands as well. Still, I did enjoy using these more than most. The quality is great even for one like me who doesn’t know what they’re doing as far as pastels, the colors were rich, and they did stay put on the paper much better than lower quality soft pastels. I’m going to skip ahead to the Kraft Paper, because this paired perfectly with the pastels. Comparing the feel and ease of blending on the swatch of Kraft Paper compared to the mixed media paper in my journal, there was no contest. It just goes to show that the right paper can do wonders! The brown tone really made my colors pop too, and lent such a finished, harmonious look especially with my earthtoned set.

I’ve mentioned before I almost exclusively use mechanical pencils, and the Zebra DelGuard is another nice one! I’ve never been disappointed by a mechanical pencil sent in my ArtSnacks box. The led was smooth and dark, and I love the fact that there is a built in mechanism to keep leds from breaking! Though I don’t usually use kneaded erasers most of the time, the eraser that came in my box was also quite nice and will come in handy when I am doing commission requests that are entirely in graphite.

Last but certainly not least, the artist pen that came in this box was my absolute favorite item! With white paint pens, oftentimes it takes 2 coats but this India Ink based pen had perfect coverage with one go-over. I was also shocked at how well it wrote over the pastel! The tip didn’t even get much discoloration … It hardly absorbed any of the pastel and just needed a little scribble on a scrap piece of paper to clean it off at the end. I could see how a lot of neat effects could be created with this in much of my mixed media work, and will definitely be getting more of these.

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As mentioned, I am NOT a pastel artist by any stretch of the imagination, but I let the pencil outlining help me out and I do like this month’s result better than January’s! February being black history month, I chose to illustrate a portrait of Haben Girma with a powerful quote of hers that has stuck with me. Girma is a deaf-blind graduate of Harvard Law School, and a fierce advocate for disability rights which is an issue close to my heart, especially given that my day job is running an inclusive creative arts program open to adults with varying disabilities. I’d encourage you to read more about this amazing lady, and watch some of her talks.

“Fear causes people to lose so much. Lose potential knowledge, lose potential friends. I wish people would stop living in fear and start asking questions so that they can learn. “

 

 

Blending With Watercolors – Stained Glass Ocean Project

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Hello! Today I want to show you a fun beginner project you can do to practice blending colors with watercolor paints and markers. If you are a complete beginner to color mixing, it is easiest to stick to either all warm colors (red, yellow, pink, orange …) or all cool colors like I did (blue, green, violet …). Some colors when blended together turn into “mud”, making a neutral like brown or gray. This is where understanding the color wheel comes in handy! For more about the color wheel, visit my earlier post Colors Aren’t Scary :). For this project, we will try out both flat brushes and round brushes. Round brushes have a teardrop shaped bristle that comes to a point at the end, and flat brushes have rectangular shaped bristles that are, well, flat on the end. Pretty easy to remember! It’s good to have a variety of sizes of each. Your brush size depends on the size of the area you are filling in. If your brush is too big, you risk getting paint where you don’t want it  but if your brush is too small, you will see all the little strokes and the paint won’t cover evenly.

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I started first with an outline, drawing my design in pencil on watercolor paper and then tracing over it with a waterproof black fine-liner pen (Sharpie fine points will work – You do not necessarily need a fancy art pen, though my preference when I do watercolor and ink work are these bad boys by Staedler.). You can draw your design however you want, or if you want to practice this technique without the added pressure of drawing, feel free to print this outline out and use graphite paper to transfer it right onto a piece of watercolor paper (Don’t have graphite paper on hand? Just shade over the back of your printout with a pencil, lay it on top of your watercolor paper, and trace over the lines and it will work the same way, though a bit more labor intensive.).

 

With watercolor, you want to start with the background and move to the foreground, and you always want to work lightest to darkest. It’s all about layering and building up colors since the paints themselves are translucent. In this more simplified project, we will be focusing just on blending this time, not layering. Still, working with the background first ensures that if any background color does find its way into the waves, which it inevitably will, we can just work right over it later and you won’t even notice by the end. Starting with the background, you want to choose a couple of colors (I used a cornflower blue and a cerulean blue.) and water them down so that they are consisting of mainly water with a small amount of pigment. Then you want to use a larger round brush and start filling in the space using circular motions. This will give our background wash a bit of texture, so that it has a hazy, cloud-like appearance rather than just flat streaks. I applied the cornflower blue on the bottom half of my sky and the cerulean on the top. Because both colors are wet, they should bleed into each other and blend together in a pretty seamless gradation. Be sure to overlap the two colors slightly where they meet. If they aren’t blending enough, you may also rinse off your brush and using the same circular motion run over the line where they touch with your damp brush to work them together further.

Color blending is one of the foundation skills of painting with watercolors, but it takes a lot of practice. Good thing you are about to get a lot of it! We did a textured blend for the background, but within an individual space inside our waves, we are now going to practice some flat blending with the goal of getting our colors to merge into as smooth of a gradation as possible. Now we are going to use a medium sized flat brush. A flat brush will be perfect for the smooth effect we need and will also be easier to keep inside the edges of our geometric shapes. You can tilt the brush so you are only using the tip rather than the whole side for narrower areas. Pick 2 different colors, and start painting one color on one end until you’ve gotten to about halfway across. Rinse your brush, and paint in another color starting on the opposite end, overlapping in the middle. A unique quality watercolor has is that when one color touches another while it is still wet, they WILL bleed into each other. In this case, that is a good thing as using wet-on-wet color with watercolors makes for some pretty low-effort, seamless blending. Still, watercolor can be finicky and things don’t always go as planned. I purposely filled the shape in so that there are darker, patchy areas and a harsh transition between the two colors. This happens sometimes, but can be easily rectified by going back over the uneven area with a damp brush. Be sure to always paint in the same direction, following the length of your shape.

Blending with watercolor markers is a similar process, but you need to be a bit more controlled with your water application so that you don’t completely lose the effect of the ink. I love watercolor markers because you can get such bold contrast, but a little bit of ink goes a long way, and with too much water your separate colors will just swim all together into one mass.  I cannot emphasize enough, quality also matters. If you get cheap markers, chances are they won’t blend nicely no matter how skillful the artist. They don’t need to be officially called “watercolor markers”, they just need to be water soluble so they will run when wet. I love using Tombow’s water soluble brush markers. You also need to think about the values of the markers you are using. Deeper colors will spread a lot farther than paler colors, and can overpower. I have started with a darker color, a royal blue, and a lighter more muted color, a sage green. Start by scribbling a bit of each color on opposite ends of your shape. You do NOT want to shade the entire area in. Again, a little bit of ink goes a long way when water is added. Then, still using a flat brush you want to dip your brush in some water, tapping off the extra on a nearby paper towel. Wet the ink on one side and work it into the middle of the shape. Rinse off your brush, and wet the ink on the other side, again working towards the middle where they will meet. The wet colors will again, flow together and seamlessly blend pretty much on their own once they meet, staying darkest where you first laid down the ink. You can see above that a gradation is apparent, but the blue has pretty much taken over as the main color you see.

Trying the process again using the same 2 colors, but shading in only a tiny bit of blue and more of the green, you can see we get a more balanced effect where the pure green color is still highly visible.

 

You can also create a gradation with only one color. The beauty of watercolor is the depth of value that can be captured from one single hue, simply by adjusting the amount of water added. To do this you would apply a bit of the same color on each end in a darker or medium value (mixing less water with your paint). Then, rinsing off your brush, add some water to the edge of the area of color on each side, again spreading towards the center from each end. The color will remain most saturated at the ends, and will be the lightest (most watered down) in the center.

If at any point you add too much water, your gradation is in danger of all just running together into one flat tone. If this happens, you can blot the area with a paper towel to lift the excess water (and some of the pigment), and then blend right over again. You don’t want to see any “puddles” pooling on your paper … that is a sign there is too much water being used. Also keep in mind damp is ok, but if you are filling in a new area next to an old one that is still very wet, the colors will bleed together over your lines. Sometimes it helps to use a blow-dryer to speed along the drying process. Or, you could just work on filling in areas that aren’t touching each other until each spot dries. The paint air dries pretty quick.

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Here is a reminder of the final image! It is the same blending process for each section, which is what makes it good practice. I filled in some spaces using the markers, and some with paint. I kept lighter colors on the crests of the waves, and alternated medium and dark tones throughout the body of water, making sure not to fill in too many of the same colors right next to each other. It always feels good to still have some sort of finished product after practicing techniques, and I guarantee you will start to see a difference in the first couple spaces you fill in versus the last! Remember, it’s all about playing with color. Have fun!