Techniques and Tutorials

Acrylic Palette Knife Painting Tutorial – Scarlet Tanager

I’ve recently been doing some experimentation with palette knife painting, though for now my forte is mainly just birds! (I tried an octopus recently with disasterous results 😉 ). As someone who was previously very skeptical about palette knifing, I wanted to share how much fun it really is! As someone who is very sharp detail oriented with art, I was worried about not having the control that I can get with a pencil or brush. In the end, I found the expressive process of smearing and marbling colors with the knife incredibly calming and meditative. This is beginner level, so anyone can try it even if you have no painting experience. Give it a go and let me know what you think!

What do you think I should try to palette knife next?

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Project Ideas, Techniques and Tutorials

Charley Harper: Creative Minds Art History Project

I was first drawn to Charley Harper‘s work in the gift shop of a local museum. One of my dad’s main hobbies is birding and wildlife photography, and Harper’s Mid-Century-Modern style illustrations just screamed the perfect birthday gift.

Harper grew up on a farm in the Midwest, and was inspired by the wildlife he experienced around him. He called his style “minimal realism”, taking in the world around him and distilling the imagery he observed down to the most essential details. He said, “When I look at a wildlife or nature subject, I don’t see the feathers in the wings, I just count the wings. I see exciting shapes, color combinations, patterns, textures, fascinating behavior and endless possibilities for making interesting pictures. I regard the picture as an ecosystem in which all the elements are interrelated, interdependent, perfectly balanced, without trimming or unutilized parts; and herein lies the lure of painting; in a world of chaos, the picture is one small rectangle in which the artist can create an ordered universe.”

Inspired by images from Harper’s body of work that capture his signature style, I encouraged my students this week to create their own minimal realist birds. Though Harper’s works were painted, they bare quite the resemblance to modern day digital art and graphic design. Instead of painting, we used a collage format to create our Charley Harper Birds. We used paint chip samples for our vibrantly colored creatures, colored cardstock for the background, and paint markers to add the linework details. From working on repainting the interior and exterior of a house over the last couple years, I had an accumulation of samples but never felt right throwing away even the colors I ended up not using. Upcycling to the rescue! At an arts non-profit, we love free materials ;). We outlined our geometric shapes onto the samples with a pencil, then cut them out and adhered them to a foam core board base (any heavier paper would work as well) with a standard glue stick. I’d suggest laying out the entire design before gluing in case you want to make some changes before the final masterpiece.

I teach adults with varying physical, psychological, and intellectual disabilities but this project is perfect for all ages and abilities. It is all inspired by simple geometric shapes and blocks of color, and can be done as simple or with as much detail as the artist desires. We created our works in an easy-to-frame 5×7″ size.

I hope you are inspired to try this at home (This would also be a fun project for bored kids, hint hint 😉 )! This is a simple, whimsical project that you don’t have to be an “artist” to enjoy. Unwind after work and get crafty with some basic, easy to access materials. As always, if you end up making one of these yourself I’d love to see pictures!

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Art Discussion

Creating Is Vital Yet $$$ : Let’s Make It Accessible

For those who don’t know, I am here to tell you today that art supplies are ridiculously expensive. Creative expression has so many mental health benefits; it can be a productive way to release negative emotions like stress and anger, a relaxation tool, a way to divert oneself from anxious thoughts, a way to inspire oneself about life again and provide something in the day to look forward to, and a tool for communication when one is feeling unheard. Sadly, the high cost of accessing the tools to pursue the arts limits who can participate. Oftentimes the people who could benefit most from creative expression also have the most significant barriers in accessing supplies and classes, such as low income individuals of all ages, those with disabilities, and older adults. Aside from the mental and emotional benefits, with enough practice creative pursuits can provide important side income for those who are struggling, but first they need to be able to get in the door to begin with. 

I direct an inclusive arts program for adults of all abilities at Creative 360 Studio and Gallery. It is open to everyone, geared towards being an accessible and comfortable environment for adults with physical, intellectual, and psychological disabilities. I love where I work because their mission is to open that door to allow all people to experience the creative process. With the Express Yourself Artshop program, we have a host of professional working artists offering classes with collegiate level instruction, broken down so that all different levels of experience and learning styles can follow along. We offer affordable costs of instruction, provide materials, and offer scholarships. We have a Student Of The Month program where we award a special gift in the form of specific supplies in that student’s area of interest to someone who has stood out as going above and beyond to learn, grow, and succeed. It isn’t always easy, but it’s the right thing to do. Think of how much untapped potential is out there, simply because someone didn’t have access to even get started.

What can arts organizations do to help everyone tap into their undiscovered potential?

  • Always have a scholarship fund through grants, sponsors, and donations, not only for classes, but for juried shows as well. I understand the need to charge entry fees to cover salary for employees prepping for a show, reception costs, and advertising. I also know many artists who never exhibit or enter competitions not because they are “lazy” or don’t want to bother, but because they can’t afford the $35-50 entry fee. 
  • Seek donations so supplies can be provided, even if just for certain special classes or programs. You have no idea how many artists have brand new or like new supplies mounted up in their studio just collecting dust, and artists love to de-stash especially to causes that are getting more people into the arts. Another idea is to start a personal needs pantry, but with a twist … instead of food and toiletries as is traditional, creative supplies!

What can working artist do to help their fellow creatives get off the ground?

  • Donate when you can! Donate money to scholarship funds for local arts programs, or directly pay for a class or sponsor an entry fee for an artist in your life who you know wants to participate in something but can’t afford it right now. If you can’t donate cash, but have some extra supplies you don’t use as much, share with someone who doesn’t have access to supplies right now. If you get an amazing BOGO deal on paint, brushes, canvases, etc. share the extra or donate it to an organization that provides arts education. 
  • Share skills! Get together with other artists you know, and commit to showing the group how to do one thing that is within your area of expertise for free in exchange for them doing the same for you. Trading knowledge is always a win-win. Volunteer together to host a free art event in your community.  What is daunting to try to do alone won’t even feel like work when you have a group of talented and passionate people pulling together.
  • Don’t be a supply snob. Don’t scoff at other creators or be judgey when you see them using dollar store or economy grade supplies. Starting somewhere is better than not bothering to try in the first place, and at the end of the day a non-skillful artist can have all the fancy, expensive supplies in the world, but their work is still going to fall flat.

monica

This portrait was created during downtime at Artshop by fellow artist, Artshop drawing and painting instructor, and frequent collaborator Emiliano Vega using 50-cent-per-bottle craft paints. Mic drop.

Due to Covid, many schools are eliminating “extras” such as art, music, and gym. This is the only place many kids can get free art instruction. Now more than ever, making art accessible is vital.

I love sharing demos of affordable projects I’ve done with my Artshop crew, especially those inspired by art history. Check out these lovely Matisse inspired bowls!

If you’d like to snag some of Emiliano’s work, he has prints for sale on his featured page in my ebay shop.

 

 

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Techniques and Tutorials

Happy Heart Art Watercolor Demo

Hope you all are staying safe out there! This easy do-at-home illustration project is inspired by all the happy heart art I’ve been seeing in person as I walk through my neighborhood and in photos and videos online. It is a difficult, unfortunate situation we are experiencing across the globe, but we can always turn to creativity to make connections to others even when we cannot be in close proximity, and to create joy in our own life in uncertain times.

For this project, you will need only paper (obviously watercolor paper is ideal but if you don’t have any on hand, any heavier paper that will take water a little better can work), an assortment of brushes, a permanent fine liner pen (Sharpies will work), watercolor paints, and water soluble markers (classic washable crayolas work if you don’t have traditional watercolor or art markers).

This is a fun illustration to try for all ages, and you can really get creative and make it your own. You can even make it a self portrait to express how you are feeling! Give this simple project a go, and if you have kids in the house encourage them to join you :).

 

Sending love <3! As always, if you try this out at home and have any issues feel free to shoot me a comment or message, I’m here to help!

If you enjoyed this, check out my other watercolor tutorials:

Barn Owl

Jellyfish

Tiger

Stained Glass Tree Illustration

 

 

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Techniques and Tutorials

Ink and Water Tiger Illustration Tutorial

So, I promise I have been continuing to make entertaining quarantine content to keep hands and minds busy for those spending a lot of time at home, but have just gotten behind on posting it here. I’m excited to share a popular project that I often do with my watercolor class at Creative 360 Studio and Gallery.

For this project, you will need:

  • Watercolor paper (or a heavier paper that can take getting wet)
  • Water soluble markers (I use Tombo brush markers, but if you don’t have art markers on hand washable Crayola markers can work too)
  • Pencil
  • Round brushes in a variety of sizes

This tiger combines both drawing and painting techniques, and is fun for all skill levels, even those who never do art. Join the fun and give it a try!

If you find you have some questions or need advice, feel free to leave a comment. I’m always willing to help! 🙂

 

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Art Education, Exhibitions and Other News

Closing Up 2019: A Year In Art

I have been pretty transparent in both my face-to-face public life and my online life about 2019 being one of the toughest years I’ve had in quite some time for a variety of reasons. Though I am more than ready to let go and look forward to 2020, and though “blessed” is definitely not the first word that would come to mind when I think of this past year (the word I’m thinking of starts with an f, guys …) … I am blessed that my ‘day job’ was many times my anchor through a tumultuous 2019. How many people can really say that???

For those new to the blog, I direct an inclusive arts and wellness program called Express Yourself Artshop that is open to students of all abilities, largely serving adults with physical, intellectual, and psychological disabilities. I have worked with Artshop in some capacity since it’s inception a little over 6 years ago, and have had the opportunity to see it grow and transform just as the program helps its participants grow and transform on a personal level. Looking back, 2019 was full of positive experiences and new adventures in creativity in our corner of the world.

The focus this year was definitely getting the students’ art out into the community. Creative expression is invaluable for the peace, joy, and confidence it can give an artist while creating. People really should do art primarily for themselves, but still, getting an artist’s work out of their own home and into the world allows that creation to further make an impact on the public that views it. Especially when it comes to artists with disabilities, society makes a lot of assumptions about what they can and can’t do. Educating through art is another part of what we aim to do.

Our Artshop crew was chosen to participate in the community’s Downtown Summer Sculpture Series. We made a proposal as to how we would transform the default mold, and once accepted proceeded to work as a group to create “Let Your Light Shine”. Not only does the positive message reflect our goal for anyone who participates in our program, but the idea of piecing together different shapes, sizes, and colors of glass to create something that would not be as beautiful were it covered in identical decorations is also symbolic of neurodiversity and the celebration of differences.

2019 was also a year of collaboration. In addition to the sculpture above, students worked on many 2D mixed media group works in a larger scale. Collaborating allows students to play off of each other’s strengths, support each other’s weaknesses, and push themselves to come up with new ideas and creative solutions as they work towards a unified vision.

Two of the collaborations were featured in Creative 360‘s annual fundraiser for auction, both highlighting a creative practice 360 offers. One themed around theater was a collaboration between two of my students, Melanie and Colleen, under my guidance. They collaged the background of a large canvas and a set of masks with old newspapers and magazines, and then chose colorful words that embodied what Creative 360 meant to them to include. We worked together on an overall design and pattern for the painting, and they came up with the idea to place butterfly cutouts flying across and did the layout on their own. I asked questions to prompt ideas, but the vision was theirs and it was truly amazing to see them get excited about what they were doing and bounce ideas back and forth, supporting and encouraging each other along the way.

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The second piece was worked on slowly over the year with a couple of different class groups, starting with a colorful abstract background over which they applied stamping, texture, and doodling with paint markers. Afterwards, smaller silhouettes of figures doing yoga poses were stenciled on (including a shout out to wheelchair yoga on the far right). Last, larger cutouts were layered overtop to provide a main focus. It was amazing how completely different groups were able to come up with ideas to continue the evolution of this piece for a unified final masterpiece.

Another successful collaboration was Creative 360’s performance of scenes from Alice In Wonderland over the summer. Students this year took part in every step of the process of putting on a small production, from deciding costumes to hand creating some whimsical and summery nature inspired backdrops. One of our Acting Class “regulars” even stepped up to fill the role of stage manager, and helped facilitate practices and organize the final show.

Videos of our different performances, events, and open mics throughout the year, including those at our most recent holiday gathering, can be found on Artshop’s Facebook Page. If you want to support our students and also snag some very cool original art, visit our Virtual Gallery, Ebay Shop, and Redbubble Shop. Happy holidays!

 

 

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Exhibitions and Other News

Weekend Art Experience at Creative 360

This past Saturday I enjoyed being a part of an art experience at my workplace, Creative 360 Studio and Gallery. I call it a art experience rather than an art fair because it was so much more than just an opportunity for people to “buy stuff”.

We had a diverse group of local artists working in a variety of mediums and styles, and also featured beautiful art and handmade items from our artists with disabilities in the inclusive arts and wellness program I run, Express Yourself Artshop. Treats were catered by the program’s culinary class.

Throughout the day, we also enjoyed a number of performances by talent of all ages and abilities. Our Artshop Community Theater members each performed the monologues they wrote portraying themselves as their favorite artist, writer, or musician. There was a singer who performed a song they’d written about their personal faith. We were treated to a vibrant stand up comedy routine by a very young aspiring comedian, complete with some mind bending riddles at the end 😉. A young woman with autism who has been passionate about playing piano since she was 2 performed a series of pieces.

One of my personal favorite parts about participating in fairs is the fun of art trades, and I was thrilled to go home with a cozy fleece blanket perfect for the sudden descent into winter over here in Michigan, and an amazingly unique “80s Death Mask” (Check out the artist’s shop for some of their other sculpture and mixed media work).

Attendees found the fair inspiring, joyful, and uplifting with an environment of openness that encouraged sharing and connection. These events can only be as successful as the number of people who come out to support our local talent and enjoy the atmosphere of creative community! We are hoping to do another fair in the Summer, and in the more immediate future we have our Express Yourself Artshop Talent Show coming up this Monday the 18th at 6:00 inside Creative 360’s gallery.

I am also working on adding more inventory to Artshop’s online store featuring all student made fine art and crafts. Having the opportunity to get their creations out into the world provides a sense of confidence, ownership, responsibility and motivation for our students and also allows them to make income for themselves. Be sure to check back as I am going to start filling the store this week and next! For those in the area, hope to see you at our next event :).

 

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Art Education, Project Ideas, Travel

Isaiah Zagar : Creative Minds Art History Project

I love to travel, and was lucky growing up to be part of a family who enjoys a change of scenery every so often as well. An experience that still stands in the forefront of my mind is accidentally happening upon one of the most breathtaking displays of public art I have ever seen while in Philadelphia on one of the last trips my immediate family and I would take together in our little quartet before my brother and I were “officially” grown-up with our own jobs, schedules, and lives.

Mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar has his work across buildings all over Philadelphia and throughout the rest of the country as well, but his Magic Garden is something special, a truly immersive art experience that really does feel like you are being transported into a different universe temporarily as if by magic.

Though he started as a painter, he ended up becoming most known for his public mosaic work. He became an integral part of the “South Street Renaissance” in the 1970s, bringing excitement, inspiration, and beauty to the ignored and abandoned areas of his hometown. The interesting thing is, he only discovered this medium because of others’ willingness to invest and believe in the talents and well-being of those who are struggling. It was while being hospitalized for a breakdown related to undiagnosed bipolar disorder that he was introduced to mosaic making, and he credits this art practice with bringing him out of his depression. Zagar has stated that he was determined to use his breakdown as a springboard into positive mental and spiritual growth, and though mental health is a chronic struggle, he has done just that. At 80 years old, he is still here, filled with an enthusiasm for lifelong learning.

Zagar’s mosaics aren’t just glass and tiles. He utilizes a wide range of materials, much of it upcycled “trash”, and integrates painting and poetry into his designs as well. I had my students make their own mini mosaic on 12×12 tiles using a variety of mixed media materials such as glass pieces, broken jewelry, beads, discarded board game pieces, and more. This is a great way for art programs to use up any odd donations or miscellaneous supplies. I work with students with a wide range of abilities in my Express Yourself Artshop program, and we also have time constraints since we typically spend 1-3 weeks on one project before moving on to the next. To make mosaic art work for our needs, we had students paint the background of their tile whatever color they wanted to show through in between their mosaic pieces, and after they had chosen their pieces and laid out their design we used Weldbond adhesive to attach the parts rather than using grout.

It was interesting to see the messages and themes students were drawn to include in their work, and I was happy to hear that many of them found the process inspiring and therapeutic, same as Zagar did.

If you are interested in learning more about this artist, one of Zagar’s sons created a fantastic documentary about his father’s journey. You do not have to be perfect or feel like you have everything figured out to use your gifts and skills to bring light and life to others. Even through his intense struggles, Zagar has had a profoundly positive impact on his community and continues to do so to this day.

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Art Education, Project Ideas

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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Art Education, Project Ideas

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.

 

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