Year End Reflections And A New Project

As I mentioned earlier, after the completion of my “Unlimited”series I’d been experiencing a bit of artist’s block. I tried playing around with a couple new ideas, but nothing seemed to stick.

Design is pretty much my constant state of existence similar to, you know, breathing, so I stayed busy with commissions, crafting, my day job, and involvement in the Creative Team at my church. It was one of my projects for the team that would be the inspiration for my next piece. Upon the usual late December reflection, I discovered the themes explored in this piece really parallel what I’ve learned in this last year.

The series this image was designed for was titled Whole Heart, and though I hate being videotaped, I was somehow coerced into it so you can view this video explaining the concepts and thought behind the design. For a medium I chose a simplistic watercolor illustration with bold colors and sharp outlines. This would make the image clear and easy to read on a small app icon as well as in larger print form. The style would also appeal to any age from kids to older adults. I was surprised how even with a “story” that seemed so basic, people could strongly relate to it on multiple levels. Hearing how touched many were by image made me want to develop the concept into a more detailed piece in my usual surreal, mixed media style. Right now I just have the pencil outline, but keep checking back for in-progress shots!

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The girl in this piece is doing something absolutely terrifying, and in no way should she be smiling or feeling any positive emotions such as liberation or elation, and yet …

I’ve always read things or heard speakers in inspirational youtube videos talk about the difference between joy and happiness, but for the most part it just sounded like a bunch of nonsense to me until this year. Suddenly – I get it. Happiness is about things that make you feel excited and content in the moment – it’s situational. Joy is about a balance of fulfilling what you need to be content, doing what you can to fulfill the needs of others or even the world or society as a whole, and learning how to deal with and process those desires that are not yet fulfilled, or those instances in your surroundings that are unjust, upsetting, or draining. Joy is about being your best self not just personally but in how you affect others.

Self care has been a huge buzz word this year, from making being comfortable into an art with lists of specific tenants required to reach maximum coziness level such as in the Danish hygge trend, to the increased conversation around kids needing “personal days” or “mental health days” in school just as adults get personal days off from work to reach their optimum ability and stay healthy. Articles about self care tend to revolve around taking it easy and giving yourself permission to indulge guilt free for the most part, but I read a really great article recently that discussed a far less popular part of self care. I suggest you read the entire thing for yourself, but the main highlighted, bold font point from this article reads as follows …

“True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from. And that often takes doing the thing you least want to do.”

Self care could mean finally making that counseling appointment you’ve been putting off. It could mean finally seeking help for your alcohol or drug addiction you’ve been struggling with. It could mean having an uncomfortable, challenging conversation with a friend or family member. It could mean either temporarily or permanently cutting a toxic person out of your life. Doing the hard things will give you not the temporary happiness that comes from giving yourself a free day relaxing in front of Netflix with a fuzzy blanket and a bottle of wine (Because you’re still going to have to go back to that job you hate after the sun sets on your mental health day … I speak from direct experience.), but the joy of a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.

I have felt the most content and fulfilled this year than any to date in my adult life, despite the fact that I still experience bouts of anxiety from time to time, I still experience periodic stressers in both work and personal life at pretty regular intervals, and the fact that the news cycle and goings on in my home country of America have really, really done a fantastic job in 2017 of pushing the exact buttons that make my blood boil.

And that is definitely an awesome thing, but it is not even all about my own or your own personal well being or fulfillment. More and more, I don’t think the point in life is necessarily to be happy all the time; I don’t think happiness is the endgame.

Most moral people tend to think that the reason we shouldn’t do bad things is because though we may think those things will make us happy, there will be some deep, dark void inside of us that will eventually eat us alive or something. Unfortunately, I don’t think that is always the case. I think there are plenty of people who are perfectly happy celebrating greed, lying, assaulting and bullying, and causing great harm to others … until they get caught. Just turn on the news. That is why the level of our happiness does not always correlate to a good life lived. We may feel happier and more internally at peace living with our heads under the sand, ignoring all the problems and injustices going on in our world, accepting the unacceptable because “I can’t do anything about it, so why should I worry?” But … if every single one of us did that, how would anything ever change? Not that every person is called to be a world changer that will end up in the history books, but plenty throughout history have put themselves in some pretty miserable conditions in order to speak up for what is right – certainly not the road to happiness and internal zen – because the purpose of life is not simply achieving momentary happiness over and over and over again.

My hope for this new year is that we all continue to grow into our best selves, and continue to flourish in awareness, in empathy, in bravery, and yes, in joy.

Come at us 2018, we’ve got this :).

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Art Discussion: New Year’s Resolutions

I have to admit, I never make New Year’s resolutions; partly because if you are truly dissatisfied with something, it seems silly to arbitrarily wait until the turning of the calendar to fix it. In part also because we all tend to set the same goals, those goals that we know everyone else is setting so we can easier relate to those around us as we share that we want to find our soulmate, get a promotion, or lose weight, and we can all laugh together about how we probably won’t actually do anything to work towards most of those things. But, what would happen if we committed to doing one thing that we were truly passionate about in this new year, one thing that we didn’t over analyze to death, asking ourselves, Should I want this? Is it too silly? Too shallow? Too lofty? Too weird? No one would understand anyway … 

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During my senior year of college 7 years ago (Whoa! 7 is a big number.), I entered an art book into the Annual Student Exhibition at Central Michigan University. I asked a sampling of the people I encountered in a day, some I knew well and some I did not, to think of a couple of experiences they would like to have before their life was over, and pick the most obscure one to share with me. I chose 35 different submissions to illustrate, and Underneath was  born. This was my first experiment with creating art based on collected personal stories, something I would use to create many more projects in the future. I also ended up winning the Grand Award for this piece, which was the first time I’d ever won anything for my art aside from a coloring contest in 4th grade, and not a bad way to exit my college career ;).


As annoying as it may be that the first thing anyone asks when meeting someone for the first time after “What’s your name?” is, “So what do you do?”, we kind of are what we do. This doesn’t have to mean our day jobs, or even be workplace related at all. What we do with each day is a choice, and it is these choices that reflect what we value and shape who we will become. True goals can give immense insight into each individual’s unique personality, drive, and psyche. That is why I so enjoyed sifting through the responses I received for this project.

I was reminded of Underneath recently for an unfortunate reason. The young woman who 7 years ago submitted the far right response above took her own life in a murder-suicide earlier this month. She attended my high school, but our school was so large growing up there were tons of people who walked in graduation with me that I felt like I’d never laid eyes on my whole four years there. I never knew her well, but our paths did cross and I remembered her submission deeply affecting me back then, as the news of what occurred deeply saddened me now. A couple of my good friends had had classes and clubs with her, some even keeping up over the years at least through texting and facebook, and the news hit them even harder.

This may not be a typical resolution, but something to be mindful of in the new year is this: we do not know everyone else’s story. We have no clue about everything the people we run into in our day to day life may be going through. People learn to adapt, and to act, and to portray themselves in person, at work, and in social media as how they want others to see them. I know I do it; I think we all do to a point. I have always been fascinated with the dichotomy between individual’s alone personas versus their public personas. It is a concept that is interesting to explore. It can also be a concept that is dangerous, because it can prevent people from reaching out who need help. If you make one resolution (aside from foregoing all convention and chasing your oddest dream / within reason and lawfulness, of course), resolve to be transparent and authentic, and resolve to be someone who is willing to make that reach when someone needs support either in the form of just a listening ear or otherwise. Christmas falling on a Sunday, I attended the Christmas morning church service at MFMC with my family this year. We spoke about how there is the whole Christmas story which most of us, churchgoers or not, have known since childhood. But, we all have stories, and our story, how we live and interact, can change someone else’s story for the better if we allow it to happen. We have nothing to lose for trying.

To see the rest of my art book in order, visit the album on my website.

Reunion … Alternate Title: Holy Crap I’m Old.

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Just this past weekend was my 10 year high school reunion, to which I actually made an appearance despite many fervent vows over the years that I, when the time came, most certainly would not. When I think of high school, I just think of awkwardness and lots of crying. I will let the following Daria memes do the talking for my overall thoughts on the whole experience, seeing as we were pretty much the same person. I even kind of looked like her when I didn’t wear my contacts.

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I put in a half-assed effort at mingling, but the real reason I was there was to see my core group of friends who I am still close with to this day. The golden opportunity of us actually all being in the same place at the same time was too good to pass up. The following day, I attended a baby shower for one of them with the rest of the squad, which is another thing that made me feel all awkward and adult-y.

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It is actually one of my life goals to never change a diaper even once, and I think I am putting in some good strides towards its achievement. I wish her all my love and the best though, and can’t wait to meet the little miniature version of my best friend sometime soon.

It’s funny to think about how completely 99.9% different we are after 10 years, but in some ways still so very much the same. This idea is something I touched on in my last post about my new project. You’re always going to have thoughts about the past like “I wish I would have known, I wish I would have done …” etc. etc., but putting some things in perspective early on never hurts. To conclude, I will leave any current highschoolers who may be reading this with some things I wish I would have realized that would have made the journey a little less tumultuous.

Not to use a cliche phrase, but you do you.

If you are naturally more introverted and are content to not be flapping your gums 24/7 during a school day, then don’t feel pressured to interject yourself into conversations just so that you look more “social” or “normal”. You will end up completely draining yourself. On the other hand, if you are aching to talk and get to know people but are holding back because you feel like you may say something awkward and embarrass yourself, don’t – just let it out. I mean, you totally will do it, that saying something awkward thing, but it happens to everyone and if you’re confident and can just laugh at yourself no one is going to give you a scarlet letter for it. By the way, you’re going to put your foot in your mouth plenty as an adult so you might as well practice up.

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Definitely work hard and do your best, but enjoy learning. Don’t overestimate the significance of high school as it plays into the rest of your life so that your only goals are to look good on paper.

Don’t waste your times on classes, clubs, or activities just because you feel like they somehow make you “look good.” Seriously, if I wouldn’t have spent every day coming straight home from school and going right down to the basement to draw until bedtime, I would not have the skills I have today in the field I actually ended up going into as a career. Having a long, exhaustive list of all this stuff that you do is only just that… a long exhaust(ive)(ing) list. Spend your time doing what you like. If that’s being involved in 15 different sports and after school clubs, then more power to you. If it isn’t, then don’t sweat it and don’t let anyone make you feel like you’re lazy just because you have different ways you like to spend your time. You’ll wish you had as much free time as you do now when you’re an adult with a full time job.

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Don’t obsess over having a date for formal dances.

Dates are boring. I had exponentially more fun during the homecomings I attended in a group with my single friends. You’ll have plenty of time for uncomfortable dinner dates as an adult, trust me.

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It’s ok to not be invited to parties. They aren’t that fun.

I know fomo can be rough, and as one who understands I have but one life to live and wishes to maximize the potential joy and newness of every moment, I still struggle with it hardcore to this day. But, I promise you, you truly aren’t missing anything. When you’re in your mid-20s, you will actually start making up excuses to avoid having to go to parties, because gigantic loud house parties filled with sloppy drunk people and bad music are tedious.

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And lastly, your hair doesn’t look bad.

No one is looking at you that closely, because in all actuality they are too busy obsessing over what their own hair looks like. I used to be hard-pressed to be out the door an hour and fifteen minutes after waking up for school, and that was with showering the night before and my mom making my lunch. Now, I get ready for work and am in the car in 20 minutes, and I don’t actually look like an ogre from outer space. Score!

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If you just aren’t feeling like high school is the “time of your life” it’s supposed to be, take solace in this … It’s basically all uphill from here.

8 Interior Essentials For A Happy, Interesting Space

When I finally got a dependable, non-commission-based-or-freelancing-big-person-job last year, my boyfriend and I talked and decided after 4 years it was a good time to pull our resources and find a place together. Unfortunately, fall and winter got super busy and then it was the holidays and then it was march and we had visited ZERO houses. So, in order to not make a hasty decision about something super important, we decided I could chill in my one bedroom apartment a little longer and keep saving money until we found somewhere awesome to live. I have to say, the place has its benefits. Though extra space is not one of them, it is:

A) Within walking distance of Mooney’s Ice Cream. I don’t need to explain what an asset this is. In a list of cohabiting concerns, not being close enough to 30+ delicious varieties of ice cream  cones at whim was right up there with having stinky socks piled on top of my reading chair. So basically, a pretty big deal.

B) I’m on the second floor and have a fun little balcony that is just excellent for drinking wine upon at night on summer evenings. We call it the veranda … what are delusions of grandeur again?

I am very much a visual person, and can tend towards being as much of a perfectionist in the decoration of my living space as the creation of my art. I always worried with a space that was not-so-much-space, and with the fun apartment restriction of being stuck with stark white stucco walls, always stucco, I wouldn’t be able to truly express myself with my home, or get it to look as awesome as I pictured in my head. Add to that the fact that I studied Interior Design in college, and I place pretty fierce expectations upon myself. However, I found there are plenty of easy things you can do to bring together a small area and make your space stand out. The essentials are …

A teapot with personality. 

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Going back to the apartment thing; in a one or two bedroom apartment, it can be hard for your kitchen to really feel like a kitchen when it’s about 15 square feet. Oftentimes this space gets ignored. A brightly colored or fun patterned teapot sitting out on the stove top can wake it up a bit and make it a little more inviting, which is a good thing when you have just had the longest day ever and know you have to go home and cook ;).

Art from different times and cultures.

Another simple way to add interest is to mix in some vintage here and there, and add elements inspired by cultures different from your own. The collection above are all pieces I have up in my apartment. I have always loved retro 1960s illustration and art nouveau, and have been interested in asian culture since junior high. Your inspiration may be different, but either way including vintage and multicultural design will make any space more intriguing and inspiring to live in.

Glam lamps.

Especially in an apartment, you don’t get to choose your major lighting fixtures, and the ones that are up are usually pretty bland and unassuming. So, you have to express yourself with your lamps. You can’t always have a chandelier or some other eye catching fixture on your ceiling, but you can have it on your end table :). I had to include that unicorn one on the end just for fun.

Fun rugs.

When you have a small space with an open floor plan, rugs are awesome for visually dividing your space into “rooms”, different areas of function so that your space doesn’t just look like a jumbled sea of furniture. They can also add a bold design element, like art on your floor!

Neutral Pattern.

For someone like me who likes to change things up every other month, it’s a good idea to keep your main staple pieces a neutral color. Plenty of fun contrasting patterns keeps it from being boring. My houndstooth and zebra print accented sofa purchased at an employee discount makes my full year of misery working in sales totally worth it.

Colorful Vintage Glassware.

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I love vintage glassware. I’m an antique store addict, and swear I have accumulated enough retro goblets and wine glasses to open my own bar.Everyone needs a contingency plan, right? My favorite antique glass is LE Smith’s Moon and Stars design, shown above. Glass from the 20s through 80s comes in nearly every color under the rainbow so there’s something to match everyone’s favorite color.

Kids Stuff (Whether You Have Kids Or Not).

When we’re a kid, we dream about the day we will have our own place. We envision building a slide that takes us from one floor to the other, and an entire room that’s just a gigantic ball pit. Then we grow up and become boring. I am a big believer in injecting a bit of fun into the place you’re going to go to sleep in at night, and have no problem paying homage to a favorite cartoon character here or there. I have a spider-man plaque hung up in my bathroom, and for awhile even had his and hers matching spider-man loofahs (I was Spider-man, he was Venom.). Finally, he complained that they were too small and made for children and can he please have a normal cleaning apparatus for when he stays over! They shot water out of their mouths when you squeezed the vinyl character sitting atop the fluffy cleaning part, that is an important point to be made. His loss.

Attractive Storage.

I don’t know if these fun little patterned boxes have an official name, but all I know is they make having piles of crap look chic as hell – enough said.

What are some of your go-to’s for an intriguing living space?

10 Ways to Make Your 2D Art More Interesting

I have always been a 2D based artist, not for lack of trying to branch out. I can make a 2-dimensional plane on paper look 3-dimensional, but when it comes to actually constructing a 3-dimensional object … my brain just does not work that way.

vernacularvillageroofI studied interior design in college, and I remember dreading the 3D model portion of each semester-long project. This is the one and only photograph I have of any of my models, and it is taken in aerial view because that was literally the only acceptable angle I could manage. At least this one wasn’t cut out of a Lucky Charms cereal box. Yes, I really turned in a model covered in pictures of colorful, Leprechaun themed marshmallows. Yes, it was sad. Now they have 3D printers for this crap.

For other artists out there who only travel in the world of 2D, it can be easy to feel stuck in a rut materials-wise. After all, you can make sculptures out of anything. 

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No, really, I mean ANYTHING …

 

If you think outside the box, “flat” art on paper or canvas doesn’t have to be limiting. Here are 10 ways I’ve found that can spice up your current drawings or paintings, no matter what style you enjoy working in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Add Text
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Transformation, 18×24 Mixed Media, Do-All of Bay City’s Annual Art Clash Award Winner

Adding pattern based text, small print from books, magazines, or the newspaper, automatically adds not physical but visual texture to a piece. It is a simple, intriguing way to add the appearance of greater detail to your piece, whether it is ripped and layered in the background or cut into shapes to fill in focal objects in the foreground.730a10c1435c579f6052846f164896a9

The meaning of the words don’t have to be important. Or, you can choose theme appropriate text and emphasize certain words to add to your piece’s meaning. This is a popular technique borrowed from art journaling and found text poetry.

 

2. Include Texture
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The Dance, Awarded Best 2D in Creative 360’s Piece By Piece Exhibition 2015; 18x 24 prismacolor pencil, ink, watercolor, fabric, book pages, embroidery thread

2D doesn’t have to mean completely smooth and flat. Oftentimes painters paint with a palette knife, slathering on thick layers of paint to create an uneven surface that raises and dips to create visual interest. Gesso can also be used to build up an uneven surface on canvas. Another option is applying mixed media elements to paper to create a textured surface. In the piece above, I crumpled white fabric and dipped it in glue, applying it to the surface for the ground. I crinkled and rolled strips of book pages for the raised texture in the tree trunks and branches.

3. Accent With Metallics
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The Peacock, Awarded Best 2D in The Midland Artists Guild 2015 Juried Exhibition, 11×14 prismacolor pencil

Varying the surface sheen in a piece is a way to once again increase the visual interest, thus drawing viewer’s eyes and keeping their attention. Metallics are definitely something you want to use with restraint, but when not overdone they can really elevate a piece. It is harder to tell in a photo but in the drawing above, I used silver prismacolor for both the sleeves on her dress and the streaks in the pattern on the brim of her hat.

4. Include Pops of Color
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Hopeful, Award of Merit in The Midland Artists Guild 2015 Juried Exhibition. 11×14 Prismacolor Pencil 

Adding elements of color amongst an image of mostly black and white is a technique inspired by photo-manipulation. Photographers have been tinting black and white photos since long before Photoshop was ever conceived.

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Our eyes are naturally drawn to contrast, and including a bright color or two within a sea of black and white provides a “surprise” for the viewer.

5. Draw Viewers To The Eyes

I may be a bit biased because eyes are my favorite part of the face to draw or paint, but then there is that famous saying, “eyes are the windows to the soul”. There are quite a few articles floating around online about a scientific study that found that staring into someone’s eyes for 10 minutes straight can even cause hallucinations. All this suggests that eyes themselves are something of an intense element. Whether depicting people or animals, using visual elements in your piece that guide the viewer’s eye to meet the eyes of your subject is sure to keep viewers locked on your piece longer, and to create a more dynamic composition.

6. Don’t Ignore The Background.

I used to be guilty of being a huge background-ignorer. Now, you don’t want a fully fleshed out, detailed, photo-realistic background all the time, and in some pieces there is a lot to be said for white space. But, there is a difference between a background looking purposefully understated to emphasize the main focus and a background looking incomplete, like the artist just ran out of ideas and didn’t want to bother. There are two pieces shown above, one from 5 years ago on the left and one from 2 years ago on the right. Notice the difference something as simple as some softly outlined trees makes. The background is still mostly white, but it looks complete.

7. Collaborate With Other Artists

This is a hard one for me, because I honestly hate collaborating. I’m the kid in school who dreaded partner assignments. I always wanted to work on projects alone, even if it meant I had to do triple the work. I have a hard time letting go of control and not getting to make all the creative decisions myself. However, you learn so much from working with other artists, especially if their style is the complete opposite of yours as was the case in the two collaborations above. Do I necessarily like the collaborative pieces above better than the work I traditionally do on my own? To be honest, nope, but that’s not the point. I practiced techniques and styles I never would have attempted otherwise, which has given me ideas in other pieces I’ve done on my own.

8. Carry Around A Sketch Journal
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Devotional Gag Reflex, 2011, Ink

Not only is keeping a sketch journal super stress relieving (the above was me relieving some of my fun relational stress by comically depicting how I felt in the moment), but it provides an arsenal of recorded ideas and references to use and combine in future pieces. Life is busy, and I strongly believe we forget most of our best ideas because they happen spontaneously when we are in the middle of doing something, and we think oh I’ll remember it later and of course that never happens. Making yourself carve out a specific time to sit down and sketch may be good practice, but it isn’t when you’ll get your best ideas.

9. Draw From A Collage
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Oceans Away, 9×12 Ink

One of my assignments in Drawing 101 way back in freshman year of college was to create a collage, and then draw straight from it. This technique is a great way to organize the elements in a piece, and visually construct your conceptual vision. You end up with juxtapositions of disparate elements that you may never have placed together otherwise.

10. Be Purposefully Imperfect
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Wonderland, 18×24 Mixed Media

This comes back to one of those things I learned through reluctant artist collaboration. I am a clean edged, smooth lines kind of person and I always used to look at smudges and drips as mistakes, not a tool an artist could use on purpose. Now, I am in love with it and every piece I create that includes watercolor has dripping or bleeding somewhere in it. For the longest time throughout art history, the purpose of creating a drawing or painting was to fool the eye into thinking what it was looking at was real, especially before photographs. The informality of declaring to the world, “Look! This is made out of paint, see the brushstrokes, see the dripping?” shakes up a piece, and the viewer’s expectation. In this particular piece above, the surrounding world was supposed to look as it would through the eyes of the subject, a child. The sketchy, imperfect outline of the colorful buildings behind help emphasize that.

Step out of that artistic rut and try something new. Other 2D artists out there, what do you do to add interest to your own work? What draws you to a piece when looking at a 2D work?