New Work – September: She Is An Atlas

This was one of the most challenging pieces in my series thus far, because I was working with multiple layers of meaning and thoughts. It also is the most “mixed media” of all my series installments, utilizing not just mixed fine art mediums but fabric, metal chain, tiny rhinestones, and torn book pages. I have been so into metallic accents since the collaboration with my friend and student, Heather. I also blame her for the inclusion of rhinestones – she encourages me to be sparkly.

she is an atlas

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that when I feel, I feel BIG or not at all. There is no other way. The sketch that inspired this piece started as a way for me to process the weight of my own emotions and feelings of powerlessness. As  I began further conceptualizing this current series, I realized the idea could fit as one of the 12 pieces. For new readers, here’s my blurb briefly explaining the series (If you are already in the know, feel free to skip ahead 😉 ): I am creating 12 mixed media, surreal, conceptual portraits in which the meaning is influenced by the use of pattern and color. They will depict women of all ages, races, and time periods, and each will communicate a different theme. I aim for the pieces to speak to women’s collective experiences beyond their differences. Each of the 12 will represent a month of the year. We tend to think of time and events in terms of our own personal history or the history of the nation in which we reside. But of course, there are women everywhere living out their day to day life all over the world, with hopes, dreams, fears , relationships. Our situations and struggles are very different, but were we in some alternate reality all given a chance to meet, I suspect we would find some surprising similarities, maybe more than we ever expected. The title of each piece starts with the month it represents, followed by “She Is _______”. The figure in this piece quite literally has “the world on her shoulders” through the pattern on her clothing, much like the mythic Atlas. Atlas the physical object is also defined as a book of maps or charts, and can signify one feeling that they alone must have all the directions and answers to all of the world’s problems, a grand and impossible responsibility.

The exposed heart necklace represents empathy, an open heart waiting to be wounded , left unprotected and raw. She leans against a bulls-eye wall, surrounded by an outline of thrown knives, a target girl like in the well known circus act. With each act of injustice and malice directed at others, she feels as if she is standing in their place, each offense a knife thrown at her, just missing. Though fearful, her face is strong and even. I’ve written before about how compassion and empathy does not equal weakness. To stick one’s head in the sand and be ignorant of the world’s ills is weakness; foolish, avoidant, and selfish.

Another way the subject can be viewed is not as the empathizer but as the victim. Some people are born into situations that are so difficult, living day to day is much like standing against a target with knives being thrown at them. It can be their geographic location, their income, the people that surround them or lack thereof, and the list goes on. Though yes, our personal choices certainly can influence outcomes, isn’t so much of life like a gigantic, living lottery when you think about it? Yet we shake our heads and wag our fingers when we see people who are struggling both around us and abroad, because certainly they must have done something wrong or things would look different? This way of thinking frees us of the responsibility to help others, and gives us a false sense of power that by doing certain things we can be 100% sure we attain the exact sort of life that we want. It all goes back to empathy and control.

One of the things I love about art is the way people can discern completely different meanings from a piece based on their own thoughts and experiences. Did something different strike you as you looked at this piece, did it remind you of something? Please share, don’t be shy!

 

Art Discussion : Deliverance

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I have always thought of doing an art discussion post on this particular piece. Whenever I show it, everyone wants to know the story behind it as the fact that there is a symbolic visual narrative is clearer in this piece than in many of my others. Still, I have been putting it off for quite some time because explaining the concept behind this piece is very personal and would involve being really freaking transparent, so hold onto your hats. (I’m actually a big fan of transparency, but it usually manifests itself in the form of out-bursting deeply personal information in a sort of accidental social vomit, not neatly typing my feelings out for the world to see.)

This painting is a prayer.


When I started this piece, I was newly graduated from college and had been back to living in my childhood home for awhile afterward, which was super uncomfortable. I’m sorry, no matter how much you love your family it just is, unless said family adopts a sort of chill,  we are mutual adults living together almost like roommates sort of attitude, which nearly never happens.

I’d just finished training for a new job in sales that I already knew I was going to hate. Approaching tons of random people I don’t know all day and having to make forced conversation until they buy something? I might as well just get into the fetal position now for efficiency’s sake. The month long training involved driving 3 hours away and staying in a hotel with all the other trainees, and everyone was either horrifyingly mean and offensive or overtly sexually creepy. On more than one occasion, I finished a bottle of wine by myself sitting alone in my hotel room and I’m not a huge drinker. Not by any means advisable, but I honestly could not conceive of getting through this sordid affair without self medicating no matter how physically and mentally unhealthy. I’d had anxiety so bad 2 years before during my junior year of college that I had actually experienced brief hallucinations brought on by stress. I was not looking to have that be a repeat experience.

Even before I had embarked on my ill-fated new job, my emotions had been cycling out of control. I felt like my body was constantly sending off fight or flight signals, releasing chemicals that triggered the feeling that I was about to be chased by a tiger, except nothing was actually wrong. I would be elated and laughing and feeling creative and motivated one minute, and then suddenly this deep sense of dread like the sky was filled with pianos tied up on ropes that were about to all drop down on my head like I was in a Bugs Bunny cartoon would shake me to my core. I’d always been someone who felt BIG. When I feel joy, it’s intense and when I feel despair, it’s intense. I like to think it’s worth it for the times of joy, where the littlest thing can make me jump up and down like a little kid. A lot of people use that sense of celebration in the smallest details of life as they get older.

The first time I heard this song by one of my favorite artists, these lyrics really resonated with me because I think one of my biggest fears is people who never express their emotions. It’s just so foreign to me.

…But I would kill to make you feel
I’d kill to move your face an inch
I see you staring into space
I wanna stick my fist into your mouth
And twist your Arctic heart

The rapid up and down thing I was going through was something different, however. I’d always been in control of my mind and I felt like I wasn’t anymore. For someone who really likes to be in control of absolutely everything at all times, it was terrifying (I make itineraries for day trips even if I’m only traveling 20 minutes out of town. Excel spreadsheet lists are my best friends. Change plans on me at the last minute? Not unless you have a death wish. Just to give you a bit of insight…) It was also exhausting because the thing is, when your mind keeps sliding into that fight or flight state you actually feel as if you’ve just been in an extremely stressful and dangerous situation whether anything has happened or not. The fatigue is the same.

Another thing you may or may not know about me is that I am a Christian, albeit a Christian who has never felt very at home in the ofttimes bizarre sort of bubble of Christian culture (I swear people must have been able to sense it, because youth group was terrible. Maybe they could smell it like dogs smell fear.). This is mainly because it has always felt very exclusive, and also because being a female puts me in a sort of precarious situation with religion in general. It’s why the subject of “Women and Religion” actually has an entire college course of study devoted to it. Organized religion of any belief system tends to not be too kind to the ladies. (If I actually behaved how those super conservative “complementarian” advice articles advised that I do to be a “Godly woman”, never expressing a damn thought without asking “What do you think honey?” first, my current boyfriend would toss me off of our balcony. Or have me committed, one or the other. I found a keeper ;).) Basically, they just don’t seem to leave a lot of room for people actually being created with variation, people’s brains, hearts, and minds each working a little differently from the other. Luckily, Jesus doesn’t need you to be a robot that copies what everyone else in his bandwagon thinks, and He doesn’t need you to join any super special cool kids club. Also, despite how people like to twist religious truths to allow them to control others, he actually validated and lifted women up in contrast to society at the time. Don’t believe me? Some discussions on this issue can be found on God’s Word to Women, Sojourners, and a great interview on Christianity Today with one of my favorite christian writers, Sarah Bessey.

This is the first overtly faith based piece I’ve ever created, though my faith, my beliefs, and my passions inadvertently end up in all of my work in bits and pieces. I was obviously at a breaking point, and I was reluctantly praying about my struggle. I really didn’t even want to, because to be honest, I was frustrated, and I was pissed off. This was not what adult life was supposed to be like. I wasn’t supposed to still be dealing with this crap; I wasn’t supposed to still feel anxious and lost and overwhelmed; I wasn’t supposed to still feel like an outsider no matter where I put myself. Since drawing helps me focus and communicate my thoughts, I decided to draw my prayer.

Dealing with intense anxiety cages you. You aren’t able to function as your normal self, or even interact with others in the same way because every ounce of your energy goes into self care and basically trying to not feel like garbage all the time. This painting is a right to left narrative. A death version of the theatrical comedy/tragedy masks are embedded into this girl’s torso near the location of where her heart would normally rest. Hands are coming up from behind her and touching her shoulder in an act of comfort, you are not alone. The hands represent God, but they are not passive like a pat on the back or a “there there, everything will be ok”. They are active and forceful, saying “No, I will not let you continue to suffer.” A suffocating darkness creeps up from below. In the next part of the narrative, those same hands are breaking the mask in two, and out of the center, though still tangled, falls the girl; her true inner self, out of the cage. She is holding a watering can. In the final part on the far right, she is fully escaped from the prison inside the mask and water flows from the watering can she is holding, while silhouettes of human figures with flowers at their hearts stand in it’s spray. She is “watering” their souls, symbolized by the flowers.

When we go through tough things, we can use our experiences to better connect with and support others. No, that doesn’t mean the trials we go through are “good” (Seriously, “everything happens for a reason” has to be my least favorite platitude, and I really, really hate platitudes), but it means we can use something that was bad for good later on. Because of the struggles with anxiety I have experienced, I am able to better relate to a lot of my Artshop students and their mental health struggles which are oftentimes far more severe than what I have dealt with. I am better able to help them when they are going through a panic attack situation, better able to understand why on some days it bothers them to have a lot of noise during class when they are already on edge, better able to understand and empathize with the fact that they were fine an hour ago, and now are very upset even though nothing tangible has changed. I am able to be someone who says, “I hear you. Your feelings are legitimate. And you are not alone”.

A week or so passed afterward, and I ceased experiencing the out of the ordinary, rapid ups and downs.

No, my anxiety has not magically “poof!” disappeared, but over time  I have become far better at managing it and breaking out of its cage using a variety of learned techniques. For some, engaging in their faith and educating themselves on emotional management techniques isn’t enough and they may need to additionally seek counseling or medication. Everyone is different, and there should be no judgement.

Also, everyone should read this post about high functioning anxiety. I have never been able to articulate an experience so well, and it is a must read for all in my opinion, because I do not think this experience is uncommon. I think people just are apprehensive, like I was, to talk about it. I guarantee someone in your life right now needs you to know this.

What are some things you do to recenter yourself when everything around you feels out of control?

 

Art As A Tool For Expression

I had the first good night’s sleep I’ve had in awhile last night, so I thought it was a good time to reconnect with everyone. My lack of continuous rest can usually be attributed to one of three things:

A. Keeping myself awake having imaginary conversations with people in my day to day existence that will never happen in real life.

B. Making lists on various topics that I will never remember in the morning anyway.

C. Being kept awake by the sound of air molecules gently bumping into each other, even through my earplugs. Seriously, I am the auditory equivalent of “The Princess And The Pea”.

It was also the first week of a new semester at Express Yourself Artshop, which brings a lot to do and think about, so item B in particular was happening a lot ;).

It will be my first full semester as program coordinator after being involved as an instructor for a little over 2 years, and the fascinating idea of art as a tool for self expression is something that one is immediately confronted with the moment they enter the classroom.

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Many great thinkers and creators of all types have spoken on the importance of creatively expressing oneself, but rather than posting a list of 20 quotes or articles, I’d rather share with you through personal experience. Yes, I am an artist, but no, you don’t have to be to use something musical or visual or written to release whatever you are holding back. Often times, through written words or sketches is the only time anyone is afforded the opportunity to see our true selves, the selves we know we are on the inside that look so much different from others’ perceptions of us. It is why I panic whenever anyone I don’t know too well asks if they can look at my sketchbook. It’s not some temperamental artist thing where I am like “No, but it’s not beautiful yet! I can’t possibly reveal my rough beginnings!” It is because it reveals a 100% transparent view of my every thought and emotion, and that can be a bit embarrassing.

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Transparency, 2012, Watercolor and Ink

I had a lot of social anxiety growing up. Even through early high school, I would often go through an entire day without speaking a single word. I’d go home after school and my mouth would have that yucky stale, dry feeling like when you wake up in the morning, because I had literally not used my vocal chords for around 7+ hours. Then of course, lovely acquaintances would ask the oh-so-helpful question,”Why are you quiet all the time? Is there something wrong with you?” which made me want to clam up even more. If people already thought I was odd, God forbid I should open my mouth! Then they’d really have something to talk about. I knew that the person I was presenting to the world wasn’t the real me. I was actually pretty damn opinionated and strong-willed from a young age (I think in one of our garage sales I saw that my mom actually had a parenting book called something like “The Strong Willed Child”, meant to advise parents in coping with this particular sort of, ahem, “gift”). I had ideas and interests and things to say, and I hated the fact that others may see me as dull or demure, but I couldn’t break through this seemingly invisible force that held me captive. That is where I turned to art, my sketches being anything but safe, quiet, or boring.

When I look back, my frustration with the self imposed isolation that I didn’t know how to navigate around is encapsulated in these visual expressions. Figures are often shown bound, missing one of their senses with eyes hidden or mouths literally sewn shut, or rendered immobile in an isolated environment.

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With Opened Eyes, Prismacolor Pencil, 2005

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Patches, Tears, and Loud Noises ; Prismacolor Pencil, 2005

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Of The Sea, Prismacolor Pencil, 2005

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Timebound, Prismacolor Pencil, 2006

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Frozen, Prismacolor Pencil, 2006

 

Though emotionally painful at the time, I luckily connected with a few good friends junior and senior year who struggled similarly and could understand what I was going through, something that I couldn’t explain since it was all internal. This, coupled with going off to college and being forced into uncomfortable and unknown situations in which I would have to communicate out of necessity, helped me adapt and change, growing away from this extreme anxiety. Did it completely disappear? No, but it greatly lessened. Within the last couple of years I have also found that when I have a purpose to my communication and am passionate about what I am sharing, such as with art instruction, no matter how large the group of strangers may be my fears disintegrate (Ask me to talk about menial conversation fillers like the weather or how my day is going, and we may have a problem. I always say I prefer “big talk” 😉 ). Not all are so lucky. Some individuals are permanently nonverbal due to developmental disorders or injury. For them, finding alternate means of communication is not just therapeutic but necessary.

I am going to close with another Kurt Vonnegut quote that I’ve probably shared before, because it’s that good:

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By expressing ourselves creatively whether the result is a masterpiece or not, we are not only helping ourselves, but are touching others positively as well. Through making oneself vulnerable, we “give permission” to others to do the same. We all think we’re the only one; the only one who thinks _________, the only one who feels _______, the only one who has experienced ________, when the truth is most likely we are not, everyone else is just too scared to say how they really feel. I can’t count how many people have looked at the piece below and simply said, “Yeah, I know the feeling …”

The Rush Hour

The Rush Hour, Prismacolor Pencil, 2014

Of this next piece, viewers have commented that looking at the work was actually uncomfortable because they could feel her claustrophobia. They understood the feeling of being confined and held back, of feeling like you have outgrown your current life or situation, of wanting to move and change while everything and everyone around you is staying the same. Everyone experiences feelings like this, there is just this unspoken rule that you don’t talk about it.

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Actually, It Is This World That’s Too Small; Mixed Media, 2014

You don’t always have to be expressing negative emotions, either. A student in Express Yourself Artshop’s Painting Exploration class this week wanted to tell a story about bright colors, music, and dance with her piece, and made a modern art version of a dancer playing the flute, referenced from an old painting from an art history book that she had found and connected with right away. Another tried painting for the first time, and chose to celebrate her favorite colors and the things that make her happy, like gardens. Besides aiding in dealing with difficult emotions, de-stressing and joy are two other side effects of self expression through art.

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Artist : Colleen D.

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Artist : Michelle D.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just pick up a pencil and play … you may be surprised what comes out, or whom you connect with and inspire along the way.

 

 

 

 

Womens Perspective At Studio 23

Thursday night was the opening for the show I was included in at Studio 23, their yearly “Women’s Perspective” exhibition. It was a great night, and I even successfully mingled and talked about my work with a gaggle of guests without my face turning green or passing out – yay! My boyfriend, who accompanied me, was literally poking me in the back with his finger saying “Get up there, go stand over by your work and talk to people!” After much hissing back and forth, I cautiously made my way over and ended up having a fantastic time once I got into the swing of talking to a ton of random people I had never met all at once. It’s funny because being an instructor, I talk all day, but it’s all very planned and orderly and I know what I need to say. It’s the spontaneous small talk I fear, but I’ve found that despite the gigantic nerves, once I get going it’s easy to talk about my work with others and answer questions because honestly what on this earth can I possibly know more about, or love sharing with people more? I think most creatives be they artists, writers, musicians, tow a line between crippling self consciousness and an almost nauseating level of confidence ;).

Ready to go! I'd been dying for an outfit to wear that Betsey Johnson purse with - half off baby! (Which is literally the only way I'd ever bother with a designer purse) The retro barbie look got me.

Ready to go! I’d been dying for an outfit to wear that Betsey Johnson purse with – half off baby! (Which is the only way I’d ever bother with a designer purse – The retro barbie look got me.)

It's the little things ... I was over the moon excited when I saw the cool graphic detail they added to my display wall - just amazing, thanks Studio 23!

It’s the little things … I was over the moon excited when I saw the cool graphic detail they added to my display wall – just amazing, thanks Studio 23!

Standing like a proud parent next to my creations :).

Standing like a proud parent next to my creations :).

They included information about myself and my two pieces next to the work, which I’ve included below for some additional insight:

Much of my work involves making the internal external. I enjoy visually exposing the unique mental environment of the subject in each work, and I believe art should let us see something we cannot in real life. Rather than using exaggerated facial expressions or gestures, I tend to let the external surroundings of a subject speak to the content of their mind and soul. This tendency most likely stems from my interior design background, and the idea that the external environment should reflect the internal person who inhabits it. I am currently an instructor in a variety of art programs, including a program at Creative 360 in Midland for adults with disabilities. I see every day how creation sparks joy in the creator and those around them. Everyone is an artist. Each person on earth has the ability to do something creative that can touch another person, and it is never too late to begin.

The Peacock

The Peacock

On My Mind

On My Mind

“The Peacock” is part of a series of conceptual portraits I did in which pattern and color are used to convey the subject’s personality, thoughts and emotions. This piece has a vintage feel with the hat and veil and peacock print dress. The dark stylized trees and floral pattern covering her hair merge seamlessly into the peacocks on her hat, and allow her mysterious and stoic face to become the focus. The subject is proud and dominant, similar to the animal covering her personage.

“On My Mind” is a mixed media conceptual portrait created using colored pencil, ink, metallic watercolor and acrylic, embroidery thread, and fabric. I was inspired by art nouveau design, vintage fashion, antique photographs, and the vastness of deep space. I used metallic acrylic and metallic watercolors for the background, acrylic for the space scene, colored pencil for the portrait, fabric for her dress, and embroidery. I was first inspired by an odd antique photo I found depicting a young woman holding her head as if weary or in pain, but with a hint of smile on her lips. I was drawn to the strong emotion it showed. From there, I developed what her inner psychology may look like if depicted as a physical environment. I think we can all relate at one time or another to the feeling that we have the weight and breadth of an entire universe trapped inside our head.

If you are in the area around Bay City Michigan, I’d love it if you’d check out the show! It’s running through October 23. If the travel is not feasible, at the very least you got your own (VERY)miniature “virtual tour” here. But truly, there is much more fascinating work besides just my own that I have shared, if you can it is worth a visit.

Artists To Know! Installment 5

I know I promised sculpture in my next Artist To Know! post; I even had all the images picked and everything! But, with another semester of Express Yourself Artshop coming to a close, it seemed like a good time to share some of the empowering art about disability and mental health I’d been archiving. I hope these images encourage, inspire, and maybe get you to think a little differently about the people you encounter in your day to day life.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about”. – Wendy Mass

Carol Rossetti

Manu

Kelly (inspired by this beautiful video – I implore you all to give it a watch. I never cry during touching videos but this one had me tearing up).

Lorena

I have been in love with Carol Rossetti’s “Women” project since I first discovered it. Since then, her incredibly personalized drawings have gone completely viral, and I’ve been seeing them everywhere in the great, vast world of the interweb! Her pieces highlight different women’s stories of judgement, with a response of affirmation from Carol herself below. Many of the stories are about women who have been judged based on their age, physical appearance, or life choices; but I’m so glad she also decided to include women with disabilities. Clicking the link on her name and also visiting her facebook page, which shows all of the stories, is worth a look. Some of the women’s stories I found myself nodding along with thinking “Oh my god, I know exactly how she feels!”, others were as far removed as can be from experiences I’ve had or decisions I’d ever find myself making. But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? We all have stories to tell, and judgement gets us nowhere, it just blocks our ears from reading and our eyes from seeing a new story different from our own. As well as hurting others, we miss out on reaching out and forming important connections.

Christian Hopkins

20-year-old Christian Hopkins says he was never good with words, which is why he loves communicating with pictures. He is studying biochemistry, but has had to take some health leaves due to severe clinical depression that he has dealt with for the past 4 years. This struggle is the subject of his photography. Though his work has gotten notoriety, Hopkins says photography for him is just a hobby, and a medium through which he can express himself. He has never had a single photography class or any form of instruction, which is pretty amazing when you see his intense, moving images. Using creativity as a means to come to grips with personal struggles, and explain parts of your life you find hard to talk about with others is something I wholeheartedly believe in, and one of the reasons I have such a passion for art. Creating is so much more than making pretty pictures.

Viktoria Modesta

This Latvian singer and model was born with a dislocated hip and leg. She endured terrible bullying at school because of her disability, and underwent 15 unsuccessful surgeries. She moved to London for better medical care, but still the surgeries she underwent didn’t help. Finally, weary of surgery after surgery that did nothing she convinced doctors to amputate her leg. She has never looked back. She has more confidence now after what she went through than she ever did, and is living her life doing exactly what she loves. She is the first widely known amputee pop star, and is paving the way for other talented individuals with disability to take their turn in the spotlight.

Steve Rosenfield

The tagline for Rosenfield’s powerful photography project is “Building security through insecurities”. Rosenfield himself didn’t start out in photography, but network administration. He describes how his former self of over a decade ago as “a very opinionated and materialistic person with a huge ego”. He never shared his feelings or insecurities, afraid that they would shatter his carefully constructed image, and this left a lacking in both his relationships and personal happiness. Fed up, Rosenfield began to “research” why he was so unhappy through reading and journaling, trying to get to the bottom of the lack he felt. When he found that the key was honesty, compassion and transparency, he quit his 9-5 to travel the world and start over. A friend he met in France got him into photography. In his series “What I Be”, subjects are exposing a side of themselves normally hidden from the world, and proclaiming “I am not my ____”. It isn’t about whitewashing over their struggles, but admitting that though they have these issues in their lives, the struggles do not define them. “I am not my amputation.” “I am not my cycle.” “I am not my fatness.”

I hope you’ve enjoyed another art immersion! Lastly, I’d like to leave you with some work from some super cool artists with disabilities that I know personally through Artshop, my wonderful students. We’ve had another great run :).

Adorable mixed media birds

Adorable mixed media birds

Bright watercolor flowers

Bright watercolor flowers

Cool collage mandalas

Cool collage mandalas

Watercolor tiger

Watercolor tiger

Naked no more! These bears have a snazzy new wardrobe thanks to the sewing class.

Naked no more! These bears have a snazzy new wardrobe thanks to the sewing class.