New Work

Misunderstood Monsters & The Ugly Phase Of Art Making

Fragile, 16×12″

Being a lifelong lover of reptiles, I was always drawn to the figure of Medusa. Back in 1992 when Matchbox put out these fun little mini monster figures aptly titled “Pocket Monsters” that you could get inside cereal boxes, the Medusa figure was always my personal favorite.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t so fun being the real Medusa, cursed by Athena because Athena’s husband couldn’t keep it in his pants. I’ve always had an affinity for those fantastical beings that can’t be understood by a story told only in black and white.

In the pose I chose for her, she is attempting to shield others from that dangerous part of herself, but only halfway. Butterflies turned to stone hang in her chamber. Is it easier to be surrounded by lovely, inanimate things after what had happened to her than real living beings? Is there a hesitation before punishing others in her misery?

Over the last couple of months, I’ve been thinking a lot about anger. Do we ever have a right to be angry? Can anger be constructive? When we unleash said anger, where is the line? Does the motive behind our expression matter? These thoughts as well as another unrelated project prompted me to finally dig out this piece that I started a little over 2 years ago that almost ended up in the garbage. I had the background done which I loved, and also had shaded in the figure. The page was filled with color and the piece was supposedly “almost done”, but for such a powerful subject there was no feeling coming out of it, none of that indescribable “spark” that makes me love art. So, in my portfolio it sat.

Over this summer I was chosen to participate in an art exhibit titled “The Chair Project” for my local United Way. Each artist was given a subject for their piece that fell into one of the major areas United Way services, with a real story from a community member. I was assigned mental health, and ended up using a lot of this similar reptilian imagery in the final project. For more details on my process and the thoughts behind my design, please check out the short video.

I spent a lot of hours outlining tiny, detailed little scales in metallic paint marker and the process became quite meditative honestly. This prompted me to give my Medusa a second look, and at least finish out her hair. The metallic accents had done so much to bring my chair design to life, that I knew it would do the same for the Medusa. Enter, silver foil and jewelry findings to the rescue!

There can be a wisdom to knowing when to let go of projects that just aren’t working, but as I always tell my art students, you have to push through that ugly phase. Every piece of art has a period in the dead center or even late middle – almost complete where it looks like a complete failure. However, sometimes even the smallest adjustment can fulfill your original vision or even surprise you with a new one. In my case, this at times can happen years later. Perseverance and faith are huge parts of creativity. So, I implore you, keep that ugly art! – At least for a little while longer.

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Exhibitions and Other News, New Work

New Art Series : Peace

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a series … since Unlimited from way back in 2017 to be exact. This new one is going to be on 22×28″ canvases and will be completely multimedia. I love mixed media because it allows the artist to use the best tool for each component of their composition. I draw people better than I paint them still at this point, so figures will be in colored pencil. Interesting silhouettes or clothing … fabric it is! Skies and birds? Acrylics of course, and why not palette knife paint the birds ;).

This series is going to be a way different theme than I’ve explored before. I always like to include deeper messages in my work, but have never done an explicitly spiritual message because it is important to me that my art is able to speak to viewers coming from all different places. Each work in this series will represent one of the fruit of the spirit, and though this idea comes from the Christian tradition, these principles are positive to cultivate in everyone’s life.

I started with Peace, maybe because this is something I have been desperately needing to grow in my own life over the last couple of years.

Peace is active. Peace is a verb, it is not simply the absence of noise. Peace takes work, and it involves risk and often involves stepping out and becoming uncomfortable. Making the changes necessary to grow peace are often painful. To truly be at peace our view of life’s value cannot be determined solely by circumstance, because external circumstances will undulate up and down completely out of our control, leaving us to be in emotional chaos, completely sucked beneath the waves.

Being a bringer of peace in others’ lives and in society as a whole is equally difficult. It means listening when we would rather shout over someone, it means sticking your neck out to protect or defend someone else even at personal risk of how others may view you or treat you afterwards, it means setting strong boundaries.

In this image, a woman is guarding a crowd of people that are behind her, blocking them from the shadows of chaos. These shadows have tried to grab her and drag her down, her arm is marked. However, the shadows cannot penetrate. Doves circle around her head which symbolize an inner strength and calm within her spirit, and can also symbolize her halo of protection that shields her just as she is protecting others.

The source from which we draw our peace protects us. The source can be sturdy and formidable, or … not so much. I am reminded of a speech one of my favorite authors, David Foster Wallace (who was actually an atheist), gave that really had an impact on me when I was floundering in the waves. “Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship”. I’d encourage you to check out the entire speech discussed here. Another author that probably has about as opposite a personality from me as you can get but has really made me think, Mark Manson, writes in his self help book perfect for people who hate self help books, “True happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving”. Much of life is composed of struggle, which is why if we wait for the perfect external circumstances to be at peace, we will never have it. Similarly, he discusses the importance of choosing the right metrics to determine what makes us and our life “good”. Faulty metrics used to define our life’s success and value are anything we don’t have control over, such as money, social standing, etc. which DFW also cited in his speech as destructive forces to worship. He calls worshiping these forces slipping into our “default mode”. They are the things we chase after and value when we are living without reflection, consideration, or deeper evaluation. They represent our base human nature, so to speak, and we all slip into this mode from time to time especially when under considerable strain.

Where does your peace spring from? What creates your circle of protection as you brave life’s trials? Are you more often a bringer of peace or of chaos to the people whose paths you cross in your day to day life? These are all questions I considered while creating this work. I strongly believe this series is going to be true art therapy for me as I work, and that my eyes will be opened throughout the process. I truly hope I am able to impart something of value to viewers as well.

There are layers of meaning, as I am a big believer in the fact that art should make people think. I’d love to hear what others see in this image, so please share if you are so inclined!

PS … I am so honored this first installment won an Award of Excellence at the Midland Artists Guild’s Annual Juried Exhibition last night, especially amongst such a fabulous collection works! Click here to view the entire show virtually. And yes, I made my jacket and paintbrush necklace! More on the inspiration for my wearable art creating spree soon.

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New Work

An Early MerMay Surprise!

Timely as May is getting closer and closer, I recently after long last finished my mermaid painting that I started at the beginning of 2020. This poor little lady kept getting brushed aside for more urgent projects over the years. It is also the first human figure I’d ever started with acrylics when my preferred mediums are colored pencil, ink, or watercolor, so there was definitely a self education process.

I’ve described this project as really giving the proverbial finger to gatekeepers who believe certain supplies can’t be used in fine art. Working at an arts non-profit, I am a big fan of use everything, and actually one of my favorite pieces I’ve seen at a museum in awhile was a giant panther in the jungle that was composed entirely out of flatback rhinestones and pony beads!

I first sketched the basic outline of my mermaid on the canvas base. I then used gesso to apply a variety of textured materials where I wanted a 3-dimensional surface: netting from avocado bags, tissue paper, and yarn. After I acrylic painted the main imagery, I dry brushed over certain areas I wanted to have an iridescent sheen with metallic craft paints which are also perfect for highlighting the texture. I glued tiny shells to the tail and the edges of the rock, brushing over with a watered down coat of black metallic to help them fade into the rest of the design.

She certainly exceeded my expectations! This is why you see projects through to the end past that “ugly phase” in the middle.

While we are on the subject of beautiful mermaids, check out this mermaid themed merchandise created by my Artshop Students! All designs were created by artists with disabilities. Show them some support by checking out our Redbubble Shop! Happy (early) MerMay 😉 …

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New Work

Surviving Winter In MI, Or Unleashing My Inner Bob Ross

I am like a plant. If I don’t stand in the sun every day I wilt. Unfortunately, I also live in Michigan and I am more wimpy about the cold with each year that passes. Incidentally, I have not been outside as much as I should over the last 2 months. I am always a big fan of if you can’t be outside, bring the outside in so I recently started doing something I never thought I would do after university classes … Painting landscapes!

Though I feel most at peace during a walk in the woods, I always shied away from nature paintings because I tend to lose interest creating something that one could easily just look out their window or at a photo to see. But then I remembered Eyvind Earle, who did the breathtaking background illustrations for Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. He was able to capture a dreamlike quality in his landscapes that still showed us a world that was comforting and familiar, but that we couldn’t quite access in our waking hours.

Growing up in Midland, MI one of our local landmarks is Dow Gardens, a Japanese style garden that celebrates color and geometry. I chose this place as the subject for my first largescale landscape, replacing the blues and greens with purples, yellow ochres, teal, black, and burgundy. I embellished with abstract patterned upholstery fabric for some of the trees, floral cutouts and lily pads for the foreground, and accented some of the rocks and branches with metallic acrylic.

I actually just finished the above piece this past weekend though I started it before my triptych below. Just as I was starting my landscape, I was contacted by King’s Daughters Assisted Living, also in Midland (I live only a city over now but still work in Midland!), to come up with a piece of art for a blank wall they had that would tie together their newly renovated space. I was excited to not only put my painting brain, but my interior design brain as well, to use for this project. The new upholstery and decor was all in blues and greens, but much of the carpet in this mid-century-modern building was a brilliant fire engine red, and that was staying. I immediately thought of the red bridge at Dow Gardens, and suggested this nature scene as a way to tie together the carpet and the new furnishings. Many of the residents at King’s Daughters lived in Midland for decades, and being surrounded by images of familiar places brings joy and comfort, especially for those struggling with memory.

I’m inspired to capture more locations from my own past as I continue to develop my acrylic painting, a relatively new focus for me. Maybe some architecture will be next!

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Gifting, New Work

Support Artists With Disabilities! – Happy Disability Pride Month

As Disability Pride month comes to a close, I wanted to take a moment to celebrate the vibrant artists with disabilities I am priviledged to share my life with, and also remind you that we definitely shouldn’t confine our recognition of the talent and worth of those with disabilities to just one month. In fact, I never even knew there was a Disability Pride Month OR that disability rights had been part of the other early civil rights movements until I started working with individuals with disabilities and a disability rights activist informed me of all this.

For a fantastic, concise video on why there may be this disconnect and why it doesn’t make sense since we will all experience disability at least temporarily at some point in our life, check out Sitting Pretty.

I have never met a more innovative, unconditionally loving and accepting, open and expressive group of people than the neurodiverse artists I work with in the Express Yourself Artshop Program.

One of the hardest parts of supporting artists with disabilities is finding their work in the first place. We have an online store where you can purchase original art and handmade wares, as well as a print-on-demand Redbubble Shop that offers all our unique student designs covering wearables, bags, mugs, home decor, and a variety of other high quality products. I absolutely adore Redbubble and own many products from them myself. I feel they are the best value in a POD site. Myself and my team are passionate about discovering our students’ untapped potential, getting their art out into the world, and helping them support themselves through what they love to do.

This idea of inclusion and celebrating difference as something that makes our community better ties right in to my current largescale project: a “mini mural” for Midland’s Neighboring Week. I have 3 vastly different individuals represented: a middle aged white woman with down syndrome, a young black male, and a mid-late 20s-aged Latino woman using a wheelchair. Heart, Mind, and Spirit are represented by graphic elements connected to each individual. This symbolizes the importance of opening our hearts to others’ stories, and the fact that we need all different types of brains working together in order to be the best community we can be. 

Every person on earth has value, and every person’s story is important.

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Artist Bio, New Work

Art And Outreach

I know I’ve lapsed lately on my writing … since Mother’s Day actually, and I only realized how long it has been when I was preparing a Father’s Day project post for Sunday ;). I’ve been continuing to spend a lot more time teaching and working on some unique commissions, but I certainly haven’t been sacrificing my own creative spirit for “work” as some might assume. I have enjoyed the shift as a way to recharge and do some new and different things, and stretch my own personal style into new avenues.

The bulk of the first quarter of this year was spent preparing for a Fashion Show with my Express Yourself Artshop Program. The theme was upcycling thrift store clothing, perfect for the big reveal on Earth Day. The majority of my students are adults with disabilities, and I was amazed to see how they took to this project. Some who struggled to create imagery on canvas or paper created breathtaking designs when given a piece of suede to paint on or a pair of jeans. Fashion shows and pageants for people with physical and intellectual disabilities have definitely come into the spotlight more as our society has begun to demand more diversity in the bodies we see in fashion, film, and advertising. What I especially loved about our show is the fact that the focus was on what our students made, not just “looking pretty” (although our students did look fabulous showing off the clothing they created!). It was very ‘come as you are’, models didn’t have to wear makeup or fancy shoes if they didn’t want to, or do their hair a certain way. Everyone was invited to show up as their authentic selves and just have fun. This was a huge leap of confidence for our student ladies that participated along with our staff and some models from the community, and I could not be more proud and impressed.

The second big workplace project that is still in progess was planning a community mural incorporating themes from the students’ artwork. It was difficult for super detail oriented me to put together a design that would be accessible enough for community members of all ages and abilities with little to no art experience to come and paint and not have it look crazy ;). I payed homage to my love of retro illustration to come up with a design that was very simplistic, but still had an artsy vibe.

My life has been filled with color lately as I also progress on a very unique commission, a cosplay sword and shield accented in PINK leather! Just a teaser for now, I will share the finished products soon!

Though art is an intrinsic expression of the artist who creates it, oftentimes it is about so much more than the individual artist. We all have preferences for how and what we prefer to create, but sometimes art is about lifting others up into the spotlight. Sometimes art is about using our skills to help someone else’s talent and creativity grow. Sometimes art is about helping someone else’s vision come true that may be creative, but doesn’t have the tools to make their idea a reality. Sometimes art is about creating in isolation and baring your own unique soul, but sometimes art is also about outreach. As one who has often been the former, I’m enjoying this exciting new chapter.

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New Work

(More) Quarantine Art

Since about mid-November, my state when through a second, more mild, quarantine which put classes and activities in my Artshop program temporarily on hold and sent me back to working from home again. I will be plunging back into things as they reopen TOMORROW, so today I’d like to share some of the work I finished over the last couple months.

This first piece was a very fun commission where I was asked to do a surreal portrait in my signature mixed media, vintage inspired style but based on the song “Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix. I was given some guidelines as to the type of figure portrayed and color scheme, but otherwise the project was completely open ended. And so, this piece was born, communicating a sense of love and positivity, openness, kindness and warmth, and creative spirit.

Little Wing Commission, Prismacolor Pencil and Mixed Media

It felt really good during this time, which to be honest though less restrictive seemed to be a hell of a lot more frustrating than the first full quarantine, to continue the trend of just working on creating some beautiful, uplifting imagery. The piece below is my largest to date at 4 entire feet high! That may not seem like a big deal to some, but everyone who knows my work knows I work small, “big” for me usually being 18×24″. Also note, no people or animals in this piece! I have another large canvas still untouched, and to really step out of my box I think I should do something architectural next.

Where The Light Is Held, Acrylic and Fabric

I also finished a full size bird palette knife painting, the rest of what I’d completed being minis. Yes, these are real birds! I’m always saving photos of exotic and interesting birds on Pinterest, and the colors and adorable yet zany plumage coming out of the top of these guys’ heads was irresistible. I found a couple of reference images, and decided I had to throw a baby in there too.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but my new year starts tomorrow. Wish me luck!

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New Work, Techniques and Tutorials

Happy 2021! Pantone COTY Inspo

Finding out Pantone’s Color Of The Year is always one of my favorite things about New Year’s Day (dork, I know). This year is a combination of 2 colors … Ultimate Gray and Illuminating. I’m not a big yellow person on its own, but love it paired with gray or black so I’m digging this theme (See my bathroom). To celebrate, I created a fun 9×12″ mixed media artwork using ink and water on watercolor paper, and some fabric scraps and old book pages for the background.

What’s interesting is I also started a new project late this year in collaboration with a supporter of the inclusive arts program I run, Express Yourself Artshop that ended up in this same color scheme. The project celebrates the independence and unique homes and lifestyles of adults with disabilities. My friend Ric LOVES yellow. More on this to come at a later date!

What do you think of this year’s colors? What kinds of videos would you like to see me share in 2021?

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New Work, Techniques and Tutorials

Hand Drawn Damask Print Demo

I am a big fan of damask print. I know the design had a big moment about half a decade ago, but I’ve always loved it, especially since under the pattern umbrella there is so much variety. I always thought a snake would lend itself well to the curving, scrolled shape of a damask print but could never quite find exactly what I was looking for. When you can’t find the print you want, it’s time to make your own!

I used metallic ink and prismacolor pencils on black pastel paper that has a visible cross hatched texture to the surface. Since this sort of print only has one element to it that is repeated in an offset pattern, this was a relatively simple one to try for someone who is newer to creating all-over print.

I’m thrilled with how my snake damask turned out, and can’t wait to order a skirt or shirt for myself. To see more of my designs, visit my Redbubble Shop. Redbubble’s products are all reasonably priced and excellent quality – these art-covered wares make perfect holiday gifts. If you enjoyed the video showing how I created my print, please give me a follow! I will be posting some fun palette knife painting tutorials in the coming weeks as the weather gets colder and we find ourselves needing more indoor forms of entertainment.

For all my American friends out there, enjoy your Thanskgiving week, and thanks for stopping by my creative little corner of the world :).

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New Work

Creativity In Seclusion

This very odd year is getting nearer to a close. Everyone has been affected both personally and professionally in some way, and many of our ways of thinking about and performing even the most mundane daily tasks have been drastically altered.

Art comes from the psyche, and I know oftentimes I can look at a piece of art from my past and remember exactly what was going on at that time in my life. The colors, the style, the motifs all relate to what was reverberating inside my mind at that time even if it is not obvious to an outside viewer. This got me thinking, how has this year, and specifically quarantine, affected my art? I have had the most uninterrupted creation time at my disposal than I’ve had in years; life has taken a much slower pace. At the same time, there is the permeating sense of distance and anxiety that has overtaken all of life.

The art I completed over the first half of this year during quarantine deviated from the style I’d been focusing on over the last couple years. Now that I look at it all together, I can see the focus was more on developing techniques and creating something visually stimulating than my usual conceptual, symbolism heavy work. I credit both having more time to develop and hone different skills such as acrylic palette knife painting and realistic watercolor, and also the fact that with all the uncertainty and isolation; two things that I don’t always handle the best even in normal circumstances; I wasn’t doing art so much to communicate as for therapy for myself. I was painting whatever made me feel good in that moment.

I also did a lot more with animals and nature over quarantine, specifically my almost daily live ink wash animal demos. Nature was vital over this time as the only form of release and entertainment, and the appreciation I already had for the outdoors further deepened. I also had the opportunity to collaborate with my dad from afar as I used many of his wildlife photos as inspiration references for my ink washes.

The gallery where I work, Creative 360 in Midland, currently has an exhibit going titled “Art In Isolation” which can be visited in person or viewed virtually. I’d encourage you to visit the link and check it out!

What are some of the things that kept you going during quarantine this year?

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