Caravaggio: Creative Minds Art History Project

Hello all!

I took a break from teaching my Creative Minds class with my Express Yourself Artshop crew over the summer since we had a bunch of other specialized activities going on, but am excited to be back! We started our new semester with a classic artist from the past, Michelangelo Merisi da Carravagio. Entertaining the masses through stories of epic violence before there were action movies, many of Carravagio’s paintings centered around religious and mythic themes and involved a lot of beheadings … Allegedly he also had to move around a lot to avoid getting his door knocked down due to a habit of “excessive brawling” – Life imitates art.

 

Though he also did the traditional commissions and practice of portraits, still life, etc., these intense and poignant scenes are what he became most well known for. One particular commission completed around the year 1597 for Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte, the Medici family’s agent in Rome, is what we drew inspiration from for our project. This ceremonial shield was painted with an image of Medusa just as she has been tricked into looking into a mirror, thus freezing and leaving herself open to guess what, another beheading! Students each picked a character from Greek Mythology to study images from, and drew from this to create their own image, blood and guts optional ;).

 

To achieve the atmosphere of strong shadows characteristic of Caravaggio’s work, we used black drawing paper as a base. Pastels show up bold and opaque on top of black, as do colored pencils if they are oil or wax based like Prismacolor colored pencils. This choice of black paper had a dual purpose; not only did it help us pay homage to Caravaggio’s high contrast style but it was a mental challenge in that students had to think about the process of shading in reverse. They had to think differently than with traditional drawing on white paper, adding shading with their colors to lighten an area and leaving spaces alone or coloring more lightly with their materials to “darken” them.

As always, feel free to share, steal, or try this at home for fun! Keep checking back as I will be posting more projects soon!

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New Art + Forced Inspiration

So, awhile back I did a post on artist block, something I had been lucky to never really experience too much until very recently. It’s not that I didn’t have a ton of ideas, I quite simply wasn’t enthused about any of them for whatever reason and the execution just wasn’t flowing. I’m sure this had a lot to do with the crazy amount of stress I’ve been under this year for various reasons, but nevertheless I really desperately wanted to make some art I was actually excited about. I remembered how when I used to write poems and short stories back in college to unwind, if I felt the urge to write but had no clue what to write about I would put my iPod (HA, who has those anymore?) on shuffle and use the first song title that came up as inspiration for my short story, or else I’d use a random word generator and the word that came up had to be the title.

I decided to revisit this old, rather silly process of chance to see if it would jumpstart my creative but very stressed and exhausted brain. I did 4 trios of word generations, wrote them down in my sketchbook, and started drawing. It worked! I instantly came up with 4 ideas that I could easily relate to thoughts that had been jumbling around in my brain anyway, but that I just didn’t know how to access and release.

For this first one, inspiration was to be drawn from the words lung, tie, and morning.

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I ended up being so happy with how it turned out that I’m keeping it! I have the perfect spot in my living room, and actually only realized after I’d hung it up that the fabric I collaged for her jacket matches a swatch on my fabric scrap pillow I made about a decade ago that is now sitting on my accent chair ^_^.

“Breathe” was drawn using prismacolor pencil for the figure, and ink for the background. I used fabric for the jacket, old book pages for the wall art, hand marbled paper for the exposed lungs, and embroidery thread for the vein detailing that trails up to her neck and tangles around her fingers. The figure is a mix of multiple references I gathered to match the image I had in my head of what I wanted her to look like.

As I mentioned before, this year has been rough. I’d been experiencing sensations of feeling trapped, confined, constricted, suffocated … Even simple acts such as breathing, eating, sleeping were in a way loaded issues, made more complicated by both external and internal factors. This was some of what was on my mind while creating this piece, but as always it is not without elements of hope and promise of a future through the oxygen giving plants and botanical imagery throughout, and sunlight pouring in through the open window.

I’m sure others may even see something totally different in the story as viewed by their own thoughts and experiences, and if anyone wants to share what they saw going on I always love to hear others’ interpretations – Feel free to send a comment or message! Love to you all, and remember, you always hear that you don’t want to force inspiration but … sometimes you have to to get anything done and that’s okay ;).

Though I’m not letting go of the original as of right now, prints will soon be available so check out my eBay shop to snag one!

Artists To Know: Discovered On Instagram

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an Artists To Know Segment, and inspiration is everywhere. Despite being a completely visual based person, I resisted getting an instagram for longer than most just because the idea of yet one more social media account to manage filled me with a sense of intense existential dread if I’m honest ;). Finally, I realized as an artist trying to showcase and sell work I needed one for the business aspect alone and relented. Now I don’t know how I lived without it! I have discovered so many new and inspiring artists from all over the globe, but if I had to narrow it down to just 5 for right now, here are my tops.

Joram Roukes

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Roukes is a painter from the Netherlands whose work has been exhibited worldwide, and he is one of the only artists that work in more “chaotic” scenes whose pieces I’ve ever been deeply attracted to. In my own work I am so orderly and controlled, repeating a select amount of the same visual tropes within one piece with balanced space for the eye to rest … I’ve always tended to get stressed out by work filled with conflicting styles and a ton of disparate elements bundled all together, but I have loved every single piece of Roukes’s work that I have seen. The vibrant, unique color schemes and photo-realistic detail  that combine classical influences with modern experiences and street art are unlike anything else I’ve seen, and the thoughtful composition makes combinations of visuals that shouldn’t work together somehow work perfectly. Beginning as a graffiti artist, he now focuses on large-scale murals that combine his own experiences, global politics, and pop culture in a dark but also surprising and often comical way.

Natalia Berglund

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Berglund hails from Belarus, but received her arts education in the United States. Her focus is in portraiture. Unique takes on the portrait tend to be my favorite type of art, so I was intrigued by her work the moment I saw it. Berglund has equal parts Eastern and Western visual and ideological influence, which gives her a different perspective based on her experiences. Much of her work is also influenced by traditional religious portraiture, but at the same time aims to challenge religious iconography, and both Russia and the United State’s representation of what it means to be a woman. Though the work above was what first that grabbed my attention, if you visit her portfolio you can see the wide range of styles she works in, and the strength and story that is apparent in each portrait. Her mission through her work is similar to what I hope to achieve, and I find her a huge inspiration.

Cristian Blanxer

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Blanxer is from Barcelona, and actually graduated from university only 2 years before I did, so what have I been doing with my life -_- (I kid, mostly.). He works in both exterior murals, covering buildings in large-scale artworks, and on canvas. His canvases still integrate the cityscape as he seamlessly combines reflective urban scenes with traditional portraiture. What amazes me is how nothing gets lost in the merger. He strategically places the human elements and the architectural elements in such a way that the viewer’s brain can fill in the blanks and complete both scenes. This series appears to me like the viewer is seeing what the subject of the portrait is looking at through their eyes reflected back over them, as if we are being allowed to gaze into their mind, and that is what makes his art so powerful to me.

Yellena James

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James grew up in Bosnia, but moved to the US at 18. Her background is in both fine art and graphic design, but she says she has always preferred paint and ink to digital means of creation (yes!). In addition to her personal fine art she continues to design for well known brands like Anthropologie and Crate and Barrel among others, and has published an interactive art book about applying the geometry of nature to drawing practice. James creates imaginary ecosystems inspired by the natural geometry present in the world around us, and says the process of building details in each piece is a form of meditation for her. I find myself getting immersed in her colorful botanical illustrations, imagining myself as part of her magical worlds, and her work has an intensely calming effect on me. I’m calm about 5% of each day, so this is nice.

Ritchelly Oliveira

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Oliveira is from Brazil, and is also mainly a portrait artist. I have a draw, I can’t help it! His drawn portraits are photo-realistic but incorporate surreal elements from nature or at times unfinished boundaries. There is a strong, silent emotion that resonates from his figures’ calm, reserved facades that is so moving, relateable, and true to life.

I hope at least one of these artists have left you feeling inspired, and if you ever have ideas of artists or types of art you’d like to see featured let me know!

sign (1)As for what I’ve been up to in my own creative universe lately, I was chosen to be part of the 50 Artists of the Great Lakes Bay Region Exhibition, and will be showing my new piece Torn in Studio 23’s gallery in the Fall. A metal print of my prismacolor pencil and mixed media work Wonderland will also be on display along Bay City’s Riverwalk trail for the next 2 years. It’s a couple days from September, so I am also officially in production mode for my annual Halloween ACEOs, so look for those in my eBay shop with more still to come! Check back soon to see the collaborative projects I’ve been working on in the meantime alongside some portrait commissions and logo designs. I’m ready for a busy Fall <3.

 

 

 

 

I’m Not Dead, Here’s Some New Art!

noboringwalls2I’m back again! I’ve been pretty quiet on here and have been taking a bit of a project hiatus in general as I go through some life transitions and changes in a couple of areas, but have completed a few smaller stand alone projects. I talked about some of my anxiety struggles previously, so while dealing with that at a higher intensity especially over this Spring and Summer, I really needed to focus on art that was purely therapeutic; not a job or another task to complete or something with an intense deadline or something that was going to take months to complete. 

I am obsessed with raven imagery, and parted with one of my favorite pieces recently as a gift for my brother, a fellow creative who just bought a new home and is getting married this fall. I knew I wanted to do another similar piece, but with a bit more color this time. I lead an art therapy program for adults with varying disabilities, and see every day how creation can be a life saving force that reminds people that they are worthwhile if only because they have made something that day. Art can be a window in an otherwise dark room. Part of the art therapy aspect of my forcing myself to keep making art even when all I wanted to do was watch movies or go to sleep early after getting home for the day was to inject my own personal thoughts and feelings into the chosen aesthetic of what I was creating. In “Flight Response”, the subject’s face is deliberately calm and expressionless while the birds flying around her appear fast and chaotic. Both she and the birds are done entirely in high contrast black and white to appear connected as one entity. They could be physical manifestations, or projections of the woman’s psyche. The background being almost opposite the woman and birds, a more expressionistic landscape in bright, peaceful colors, is also deliberate. There is hope, and there can always be better things ahead. Though not always aware of it, she is in control.Flight Response

I also wanted to take the opportunity to play around with some different techniques and combinations of materials with no pressure on achieving a specific result, another important aspect of art as therapy. In “Waiting”, I  tried watercolor painting on wrinkled lace, wire wrapped with yarn, embroidery, and weaving strips of hand marbled paper along with my traditional ink and prismacolor pencil drawing. Again, there is an aspect of sadness and isolation but not without a lingering hope. I aimed to craft a story based on what I was experiencing as a way to process my thoughts, but a story that is open ended so the viewer can create their own narrative as well.

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As the smoke is clearing, I’m still working on my series based around color psychology and looking forward to doing more teaching again in the Fall. Both of the above pieces are available for purchase, and I’m starting early on some small and affordable Halloween-time art that will soon be posted in my eBay shop, so keep an eye out! For a time lapse of some of the background illustration for “Flight Response”, check out my artist facebook page.

 

My Experience With High Functioning Anxiety

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2019 has been rough. In an earlier post I commiserated that at least living in constant fight-or-flight mode birthed some awesome artwork, and I kind of kept doing that thing where I would joke about how terrible I was feeling, brush it off, tell myself it was just a “bout” that would pass. Then the months went on and I was still dealing with ramped up anxiety, waves of depression, moments of intense anger and irritability and an overall difficulty to control my emotions. I recognized what was happening because I’d been there before. As of this week, this time I am doing something about it.

I’ve dealt with anxiety since childhood, and always thought about counseling but then it would get better for a little bit, so I’d put it off. I had bouts of being pretty miserable and losing hope in nearly everything but at the same time, not to be funny, I wasn’t failing at life. I was maintaining a reasonable amount of friendships, I was handling a high stress job, I was churning out personal art projects that I was happy with at a pretty amazing speed … I’d had fleeting thoughts of suicidal ideation from high school going forward but they were isolated incidents, few and far between, and I always viewed them as some pesky creature that had invaded my brain like ‘hey, get out of here, you don’t belong!’ not something I seriously wanted to happen. After all, I’m the girl that goes to lengths to do everything possible now to guarantee I make it to 100 years old (constant worrying over mortality is probably another anxiety symptom, but hey)! I felt I didn’t really have a right to seek counseling because in the back of my mind I thought they might laugh in my face when I showed up for the first meeting and say, “Why are you even here?” So many people struggle so much worse.

One thing I’ve learned through my job working with adults with all forms of disability including psychological, is that all mental illness is wildly misunderstood by the population at large. I feel like with my struggles being mostly unseen, when shit finally hit the fan and started to get worse throughout the last 6 months or so I ended up feeling more isolated actually then when I’d been keeping silent and “passing”, and I don’t think I was prepared for that. My anxiety and depression didn’t fit the mold, and some days I wondered if I should just start laying around in bed just so people would take it seriously but the thing is, I was filled with energy and the last place I wanted to be was in bed. High functioning anxiety is real and it is tough, though it may not look as dire on the outside. I can never speak for everyone, but here is what this girl with high functioning anxiety wants you to know:

Don’t analyse us. (Unless you are our counselor and it’s your job 😉 ) We are already constantly questioning our every move, every word, every facial expression as we move through the world. People are allowed to not be at 100% 24/7. Saying “Why do you sound tense, why are you so turned up, calm down!” (I’ve literally had people say these things to me when I’m not even raising my voice, just have a serious expression on my face!) over and over again even if it is asked out of concern does not help, it just makes the anxiety worse. There are constructive ways to check in, but policing facial expressions and body language are not it.

When we talk about how we feel, don’t respond with, “You just need a drink”. I do drink socially, but usually try to not drink when I am feeling particularly low because it tends to make it worse. I am lucky to not struggle with this right now, but many people with anxiety and other either situational or permanent mental health issues self medicate with substances, so this could actually be really unhealthy and dangerous advice. I did struggle for a period of about a year in college with self medicating social anxiety in large gatherings with alcohol, and although we are very casual in the US about binge drinking being a “normal” part of transitioning through young adulthood, it really shouldn’t be as normal as it is.

Similarly, please don’t keep telling us we need to drink more tea, eat 10 almonds every day, or just eat a freaking banana. Full disclosure, I love all 3 of those things and do consume them quite regularly and guess what, I still have anxiety. Yes, a healthy diet certainly does impact one’s mental health and quality of life, but it isn’t always a magical panacea. I myself make a habit of eating healthy and tend to just think fresh, healthy food tastes better anyway. Yet again, I still deal with anxiety. Assuming someone’s mental health issues are occurring because they aren’t taking care of themselves is just that, assuming, and is just going to compound their feelings of guilt, shame, blame, and guess what – anxiety!

We aren’t “faking it” to get out of things we don’t want to do. I’m an adult. When I have to dial back on some things and allow for more margin in my life to recharge, I’m not “playing sick” to get to stay home from school and watch cartoons. I am a person that hates sitting around being inactive or being unreliable, and often joke that I’m allergic to relaxation. So, if I say I’m having a hard time and just can’t do a, b, or c, I mean it and usually no one is more frustrated about it than me. If I am experiencing a particularly rough time, there can also be a fear of potential embarrassment; What if I start having a panic attack and can’t get to a private place quick enough?

We don’t always need a solution from our support system. We don’t need a team of cheerleaders shouting at us, “You can do it! Pull it together!” We don’t need “tough love” and to be forced into going through the motions as if nothing is wrong in hopes by sheer force of willpower the cycle will be broken. We need to be heard. We need our support system to listen to understand, not listen to “fix” us or listen to reassure us “it’s not that bad”.

At the same time, no one else is responsible for our mental health but us. Anxiety is not a license to lash out at people with no consequences. No one is obligated to play therapist when we should be seeing a professional counselor. No one should feel the pressure of being the “one thing” keeping us going, and it is ok to respectfully call us out if you feel we are doing any of these things.

Know that there is no required severity level to getting help. You don’t have to wait until things reach a breaking point. Here are some other excellent articles with insight into a less often talked about dimension of anxiety:

What Are The Signs Of ‘High Functioning’ Anxiety?

What It’s Like To Have ‘High Functioning’ Anxiety

The Characteristics of High Functioning Anxiety

Kintsugi – Creative Minds Art History Project

I’ve always loved Kintsugi pottery not just for its striking visual interest but also for the symbolism behind it. Kintsugi means “golden joinery”, and is a practice that started as early as the 15th century in Japan. With Kintsugi, artists fix broken pottery by using a special lacquer mixed with powdered metals to join the pieces back together. Influenced by the Japanese philosophies of wabi-sabi (seeing beauty in imperfection), mottainai (the regret of wasting), and mushin (the acceptance of change), Kintsugi pottery highlights flaws rather than hiding them, showing each piece’s unique history and turning brokenness into beauty. Our experiences, mistakes, scars, and the things that make us different are what build us into who we are, and beauty can be found in all of these things as we move forward.

I knew I wanted to incorporate learning about Kintsugi into my Artshop class, but the question was how? In this class, we typically do different small projects each week, so it would need to be something that could be completed in an hour and a half. Additionally, I have no background in pottery or sculpting (100% 2D artist over here!) and wanted to use supplies our studio already had on hand without depleting our clay class’s supply. A couple of months ago, a group of friends I do crafty girls nights with and I found an idea to make small, marbled ring dishes out of polymer clay on Pinterest. This craft got me thinking … why not make sculpey pottery?

It took some trial and error, but I ended up coming up with something that works using sculpey, a cool whip container and some 4″ diameter and 3-3.5″ diameter oven safe glass storage containers, hot glue, and broken teacups.

The first step was to roll out a sheet of clay to the desired size. Students mashed, twisted, and striped their different colors together and then rolled them out to about 1/2 cm thick. We happened to have acrylic polymer clay rollers, but a rolling pin would work just as well – Just make sure to put a piece of foil or parchment paper over the clay so it doesn’t actually make contact with the rolling pin if you ever want to use it for food again. Next, they cut out a circle by tracing around a template using an xacto knife. We used an empty cool whip container as a template for students who wanted a 4″ diameter bowl, and a 4″ glass container as a template for students who in the end wanted a smaller 3.5″ bowl.

IMG_20190528_150010Once everyone had their flat circle, we placed our chosen glass containers open side down and centered the circle of clay on the base of the container. We then gently guided the sides of the circle  down to form a bowl shape, being careful not to press the clay down too tight (This makes it easier to remove later!), and not to press hard enough to leave fingerprints.

After this, we made a selection of teacup fragments from our stash. We then laid them where we wanted on the surface of our clay bowl shape, and traced around the fragments with an xacto knife, cutting out an empty space into which we could glue the piece once the clay was baked. Some pieces were more curved than others, so this also influenced placement. The holes can be a bit bigger than the piece, because we can fill any gaps with hot glue – You just definitely don’t want the hole to be smaller.

Once the spaces were cut we baked the clay on the oven safe glass containers, still open side down, in the oven per the instructions on the sculpey package (275 degrees for 15 minutes). After letting the hardened clay cool, we were able to use hot glue to fill in our bowl with the teacup pieces. Once the glue has hardened and is painted with metallic gold acrylic, it looks just like the fusing used in traditional pottery!

These make for interesting decorative bowls or catch-alls, and though our process and materials were quite different, it was a fun way to reinforce the history lesson. My hope is that these tiny vessels will sit out somewhere as a reminder for people to love themselves, cracks and all, and remember that no one is ever broken beyond repair.

 

New Projects and Oddities

I feel like I’ve been sharing more class projects than studio projects lately, and wanted to update everyone on what I’ve been up to. I am still continuing to work on my series based on the symbolism of color, but have been trying to complete some smaller projects in between that are less about some complex visual metaphor and more focused on the interplay of pattern and things that I just plain find visually interesting. If I become to singularly focused on only one specific project I’ve found it makes me more susceptible to artist block, and I’ve also had a mentally and emotionally taxing last couple weeks that left me needing some of that creation therapy I’m always urging my students towards (nothing serious, never fear! This too shall pass and all that jazz…).

 

 

The amazing news is that all 3 of these projects from watercolor to mixed media to a doll repaint not only provided a bit of sunlight in my miniature storm, but also found good homes with art appreciators!

 

 

For a lot of my teens and early-mid 20s I felt like I didn’t have a cohesive aesthetic because I appreciate so many different types of visuals. Even when I get dressed in the morning, am I going to be goth, street style, barbie, androgynous, hippie, stepford wife, some odd hybrid of them all … It entirely depends on my mood for the day. I feel like in the last 5 years I’ve finally been able to marry my inspirations of nature and living things, the fashion world, vintage and antique, graphic patterns, and eerie elegance into a specific style without getting repetitive and monotonous.

Though I am not a very techy person and resisted bothering with both instagram and pinterest for longer than most, I have to admit I am now completely addicted to both for the constant stream of visual inspiration. To me though, at least looking at art and design on social media is a positive force, so long as you aren’t using it to compare yourself negatively to the journey of other creators! Today I wanted to share the current visuals I am feeling connected to right now. All are photography and fashion, which is an idea I feel like I try to bring into my drawings. I had a huge interest in pursuing photography for the longest time in college, but one can only focus on so much and eventually drawing won out! I also would have loved to go into fashion design but alas, I hate sewing machines!

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Creepy Kids by Ukrainian fashion artist Dina Lynnyk.

Lynnyk collaborated with photographer Roma Pashkovskiy to make this aptly titled series of disconcerting fashion collages happen. The mainly monochromatic yet still surprising color palettes, detail in the wardrobe and accessorizing, and the incorporation of wildlife in the form of winged friends in many of the images drew me into this project right away (I’ve long been a fan of matching birds to clothing). Also, the pale stares! It makes you stop, and it is undoubtedly creepy but there is still such an elegance to it, like these children are some evolved form we have just discovered.

97d1ee4d4d8547cb3083b34a19013a47Gareth Pugh Spring and Summer 2015 Collection.

Gareth Pugh is an English fashion designer, and though my favorite image was from his Spring collection a couple of years ago, the inclusion of all-absorbing optic-art geometric prints are just as present in his current Spring collection for 2019. Many of his models are obscured in some way or completely covered by the designs, demonstrating garments’ power to quite literally transform the wearer into something or someone completely new. His hard edged, high contrast designs when photographed almost look like an ink drawing or painting, making the model a living work of art. 

 

ab830156054015.5609a2c8de3fcElisa Lazo de ValdezFrench Postcards Photography.

Elisa Lazo de Valdez is a portrait photographer who specializes in surreal, dreamlike, fairy-tale images. Many of her costumes, makeup, and props are detailed and elaborate. Though it was these images that drew me to her work in the first place, I was struck by how simple this incredibly creative photograph was as far as decoration, yet the strong impact that results. I’ve been including butterflies in a lot of my new art since Spring began, which is probably another reason why this particular piece attracted me.

 

9b514eda1ec08bca74b6f8bfb9466475Matières Fécales.

I saved the most out-there for last. Montreal-based couple Hannah Rose Dalton and Steven Raj Bhaskaran make up the design duo whose name translates in English to, well, Fecal Matter. Everything sounds more elegant in French …  The couple are their art, appearing in public with no hair or eyebrows and alien-like makeup on the regular. Their designs are futuristic and slightly painful looking, but then there are nods to Victorian fashion at times, and every so often surprising botanical motifs will show up like in this favorite image of mine. Of their name, the couple says it is a comment on the relationship humans have with material possessions, their disposable nature. They also claim the unpleasant brand name forces the buyer to purchase one of their garments because they actually like it, not because they just want to own or advertise a certain name-brand. To me, some of their work seems like it’s more focused on shock value than creating art, but nevertheless there have been creations of theirs that have intrigued and inspired me, and that is no small thing.

Be sure to check out my Pinterest if you want to see more curated images of bizarre fashion and surreal portraits, as well as some really killer pescatarian recipes ;).