On Creativity & Leadership: New Year New Perspective

Though new year’s resolutions can be cliche and oft forgotten, using the turning of a year as an opportunity to refocus can’t hurt. My ongoing goal for this year is to not let the fear of others’ perceptions make me question my decisions either in art or as a leader. Not that I should never question why I am doing what I’m doing; questioning oneself is healthy and necessary, but only if done for the right reasons.

A quick background blurb for those new to the blog – My day job is running an inclusive creative classes program geared towards adults with disabilities and mental health, and I am also a freelance artist.

I was hit with this the other day when I came home from the first week of the program’s new semester on a high, because a new student had taken me aside and let me know that they had not been out in public to participate in group activities in a long time, and that I had been a stabilizing presence that kept them calm and made them feel safe. As I was browsing through facebook while waiting for dinner to cook, I came across an article (mainly aimed at women) that stated that being called reliable, stabilizing, nice, or accommodating were not compliments and were basically code for being a complete doormat. As an independent minded person, this horrified me. Immediately, every time I’d been called any of those adjectives by others rushed through my head and halfway through creating a plan to deconstruct and rebuild my entire personality, I suddenly stopped and asked myself why I was doing this. I don’t know the person who wrote this article personally, nor do they know me. Why does this opinion suddenly hold so much weight? Should I instead be unkind, stubborn, leave a path of division and stress in my wake? It makes no sense for either women or men to live their life that way.

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Though it may not be fierce or glamorous or fit neatly within an awe-inspiring superhero persona, I don’t really want to be the leader who is kicking ass and taking names ;). I don’t want to be the leader that refuses to see the progress and can only focus on past mistakes in the people I work with. I don’t want to be the leader that kicks an employee when they’re down; I don’t want people to come to me with vulnerability, saying “Hey, I may need some extra support this week because I’m having a tough time with____________, or this hard thing just happened in my life, or I’m having this mental health struggle right now,” etc. and my response is, “That’s not my problem, leave your issues at home.” I can still hold people accountable without tearing down their self worth, and I don’t need the approval of those that are on the outside looking in that don’t know my group like I do.

I realized that without knowing it, I’d slipped into these same bad habits with my art … I’ve mentioned before how it was hard knowing what direction to go in after completing my last big 12 part series I’d worked on for around 2 years. When trying to come up with new concepts, I found myself constantly questioning myself based on how a new project may be perceived, and getting nowhere. If I start using more bright colors than usual will people think I’ve lost my edge, if I use my more dark imagery will I come across as an aging Hot Topic shopper, Will men feel left out since I draw mostly women, If I draw men will they think I’m trying to speak for them … ??? I’d gotten a lot of commissions done in the time since and some just-for-fun personal projects, but nothing with a strong direction.

When beginning your next creative endeavor for 2019, whether on your own or leading/educating a group, keep yourself in check by asking the right questions:

What kind of creator do I want to be? This question sounds simple, but is an ongoing process. I remember taking a fascinating hybrid philosophy/law class in college to fulfill one of my freshman year gen eds, and we started by discussing the tombstone question, basically when you’re gone, what do you want written on your tombstone? How do you want to be remembered? Now let that answer be in the back of your mind and guide your decisions, because our daily choices determine who we will become. Once you decide what kind of creator you want to be, the steps you need to take as a creative, the events you need to participate in, the programs you need to donate your time to, will no longer seem so up in the air, and won’t be so susceptible to changing with the wind the minute you hear a bit of noise.

Who am I trying to reach with this project? Oftentimes creative projects won’t be all about you, so there are indeed times you need to consider others’ possible responses to your work. But, if you are trying to appease everyone you will end up running yourself in circles, leading to a sub-par result that in trying to say everything to everyone, says nothing. Think of who you want to speak to with your project – It’s ok for you to create something that isn’t intended to resonate with everyone. Chances are, there will be others outside of your target that will end up getting something out of it, too.

What experiences am I drawing my ideas from? Creation flows most easily when it comes from the fount of something that the creator is passionate or knowledgeable about. Think about what in the world gets you stirred up, either positively or negatively. Think about what experiences you’ve had that have impacted you, that you remember every detail of; again, positive or negative. There may be an artist out there whose aesthetic and ideas you really admire, an artist you wish you could create exactly like, but it likely isn’t possible since they have a different story than you. Find your own voice rather than trying to retell another person’s story. And, if in the end you do want to use your voice to tell the stories of others, make sure you do your research and ask questions!

How would I want to be guided? Methods of leadership or teaching aren’t one size fits all as different styles are more effective for certain personality types, but this question is a good starting point. It pretty much boils down to the golden rule, and asking in each situation, “How would I want to be treated?” I’ve heard horror stories of art instructors sending students away in tears after a critique of their work. Yes, the work of a student or a fellow artist you are collaborating with may not meet your expectations, but how is destroying their enthusiasm for creation or any hope in them that they can improve going to help them get to where you want them to be? In leadership, treat others how you would hope they’d treat you, it’s really that simple.

What is distracting me from my purpose right now? Be mindful of what is going on when you feel yourself getting derailed like I described happening to me earlier … Stop yourself and note what activity was going on when the switch occurred, and what stimuli you were taking in. Is it criticism from toxic people in your life, comparing yourself to others on social media, taking opposing views personally without the lens of evaluation, forcing yourself into a box that is antithetical to who you are … Write it down if you have to, and when you start to notice a pattern do your best to remove or lessen that thing in your life, whether it means taking a break from certain friends or family members or spending less time putzing about online.

I have to decide for myself what kind of leader, and what type of creator I want to be… and so do you!

 

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Salvador Dali – Creative Minds Art History Project

Yikes, it’s been a whole month since posting last! My blog isn’t the only thing I’ve neglected … I must tattle on myself and admit that I gave up on Inktober after week 15! A half marathon if you will … perhaps I should have only committed to every other day! I have kept up with doing art every day though, which was the entire goal of Inktober to begin with. I was finding myself in the sticky situation of having to de-prioritize commissions and actual projects with deadlines in order to get my Inktober illustration finished for each day, which seemed counterproductive in the end. I do have a lot of fun art history based projects queuing up to share with you, and today our inspiration is an artist from my favorite genre of art: surrealism … Salvador Dali!salvadore-dali-simpsons-persistence-of-memory

Dali is best known as “that melting clock guy” from his famous piece “The Persistence of Memory” that has now become a part of popular culture, parodied regularly. However, he also had a thing for tall and spindly creatures as evidenced from two more of his more well known works, “The Elephants” and “The Eye of Surrealist Time”.

tall frameMy students in the Artshop Program love drawing animals, and the idea of depicting real things in a distorted way by stretching out their features was a concept that would be easy for everyone to grasp, so this seemed like a great jumping off point for making Dali’s work accessible.
Every work of art looks better behind glass, from works created by a master to works created by someone who specializes in stick figures. Though not every drawing or painting has to be framed especially in a classroom/learning setting, it’s nice every once in awhile. Pro-tip! Frames are expensive, but often times nice frames with ugly artwork in them can be snagged for cheaper than so-so frames that are empty at your local art supply store. These long, framed pastel-dyed crinkly paper guys were clearanced out, because this dentist-office-esque art is really bland and kind of hideous, not something that people would be racing to put on their wall at home. So, we got some custom dimension frames perfect for this tall animals project for super cheap, and just discarded the mass produced “art” inside! This project could be executed with any drawing or painting materials, but I had my students use watercolor markers because it was a medium not all of them had the opportunity to try before,  and the markers would allow us to get bright, saturated, unnatural colors like the deep reds and golds behind Dali’s elephants.

They found a photographic reference of an animal they liked for their subject, and then were encouraged to sketch on scrap paper and brainstorm how they could distort the image. They then made a pencil drawing on watercolor paper pre-cut to size, and used a sharpie pen to outline over the pencil so they wouldn’t lose their guide as they added the ink. The images were filled in with color and water, and there you have it! A simple, yet beautiful and intriguing end result where students had to challenge themselves to distort reality in an effective way. All ages and abilities could take this project in their own direction.

Happy creating! Remember, you are the artist, so you get to determine how you portray your world. Don’t be afraid to play with reality a bit ;).

 

Gustav Klimt – Creative Minds Art History Project

I got a bit behind on sharing my projects, but have now caught the awful Fall cold that is going around, so no better time than the present to sit and type with a hot cup of tea at my side. Gustav Klimt’s work, like that of the earlier covered Van Gogh, is one of those bodies of historical work that is recognizable even by non-artists because of his unique style that has been made readily available in print form to this day, and is appropriated and referenced constantly in new art. Though I’ve never experienced an emotional connection to his work, I love the use of metallics and vivid, overwhelming detail of his pieces as well as the merging of both realistic and painterly elements.

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Klimt began as a decorative painter under the belief that art’s true purpose was to show viewers something beautiful, and got his start painting murals on the walls and stairways of lavish, wealthy homes. His personal work was charged with an eroticism that was not present in art at that time, and it earned him a good deal of disdain but he remained committed to depicting the beauty of the world as he saw it. His pieces have resonated and stood the test of time, enough that virtual immersive experiences of his work were made available this year in Paris and Austria.

Not all of his work is sensual in nature or contains nudity, and there are plenty of other examples to show as inspiration if you are doing this project with younger audiences.

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Klimt’s work incorporated figures and portraits, but learning how to draw faces and the human body properly is a whole semester of lessons within itself! To make a Klimt project that was accessible to all skill levels, fun, experimental, and stress free, we used collage. Some of Klimt’s portrait work does remind me of a very early form of fashion editorials, so we cut out models and celebrities from Elle and Vogue magazines to become the subjects in our Klimt inspired artworks.

Students were then encouraged to place their magazine cutout where they wanted it on the page, and trace around it with pencil to save the space. I recommend gluing the magazine cutout on last so it doesn’t accidentally get smeared with paint. After outlining, students could add on and sketch the outfit of their dreams with pencil. Once the basic outline was complete, students filled in the background and clothing in different shades of metallic paint first, and then could add detail overtop with pattern. As I’ve mentioned before, I work with a lot of adults with disabilities and seniors in my art program. Painting small patterns with a brush can be hard for some depending on their dexterity level so we made this project more accessible by also introducing the use of ink stamps for those who were struggling with fine motor skill. Innovation can lead to some simply amazing results, as can be seen by the work-in-progress above! Be sure to check back soon for more artist-inspired project ideas!

Henri Matisse – Creative Minds Art History Project

Another week, another artist! I shared my Van Gogh project last week. In week 2 we covered Henri Matisse. His personal story really resonated with the students, being a group of adults with varying disabilities.

Matisse spent the majority of his artistic career as a painter, being one of the leaders of the Fauvism movement in the early 1900s. Fauvism is characterized by a painterly, non-realistic representation of people and objects and a strong use of bold “crayola crayon” colors. Unblended strokes of pure color divide objects from their background rather than shading. He wanted his art to be calming and cheerful, an escape from the world’s troubles. In 1941, everything changed when Matisse was diagnosed with cancer and had to have surgery. His life was saved, but from that point forward he required the use of a wheelchair for mobility, and struggled with dexterity. Matisse famously said, “Creativity takes courage“, and at the age of 72 no matter how he had changed physically, he refused to give up on creating. He shifted gears to a cut paper collage format for his work as painting was harder to manage with his dexterity changes, creating yet another influential body of work. He ended up liking this new, modern style even better than what he had been working on before, and you can still see similar shapes, styles, and color schemes taken from his paintings and applied to his collage works, such as the organic leaf shapes. His final project was stained glass windows for the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence as seen pictured above, designed in his iconic collage style.

Though the term disability pride wasn’t part of our vocabulary at the time Matisse was alive, I think his legacy perfectly embodies this concept. He did not look at disability as a barrier, but an opportunity to innovate.

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For our project, we created beautiful decoupage bowls inspired by Matisse’s paper cut works. I chose to focus specifically on shapes present in his chapel design, though if you do an image search of his collage work you could find many other ideas. I cut patterns out of some scrap matte board for the students to trace. We used colored printer paper for the cutouts – It is thin enough to be able to bend along the round shape of the bowl without popping back up or creating massive wrinkles, but thick enough that the color of the bowl won’t show through. We used matte Mod Podge to apply and seal the shapes onto the bowl, and the bowls themselves were picked up at the dollar store, making this a ridiculously inexpensive project with beautiful results.

This would be a fun project to do with all ages from kids to seniors, and makes for a great gift idea if planned closer to the holidays or Mother’s Day. Since Mod Podge is not food safe, obviously you do not want to try to eat cereal out of these or something ;), but they are a perfect catch all for jewelry, keys, pens pencils and paperclips, or change. Also a cute decoration when filled with decorative orbs, glass marbles, or stones. I love color, and may just have to make one of these for myself at home!

Creative Minds Art History Project – Vincent Van Gogh

Hello all! This is my first post I’ll be doing on my Creative Minds class projects I am leading with my program this semester. Each week we will be learning about a well known artist from the past or present, and completing a project based on their process and style. I work primarily with adults with disabilities or mental health issues, and though we will not only study artists with disabilities, mental health issues, addiction, or chronic illness, these individuals will be a special focus.

Today I’ll be walking you through an enjoyable and easy project inspired by the art of Vincent Van Gogh. Being the Coordinator as well as an instructor for an inclusive recreational arts program, there is always a wide range of abilities and experience levels in each class. I am excited to make art history accessible and fun for all ages and abilities. Vincent Van Gogh has always been one of my favorite historical artists, so of course he had to be the artist I chose for week 1. I know that he’s a lot of people’s favorite, but I have always felt a special kinship with him as we also happen to share the same birthday!

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His use of light, color, and movement through swirling, visible brushstrokes has become iconic and easily recognizable even to those with no knowledge of art. Also common knowledge are Van Gogh’s struggles with mental health throughout his life. He was blessed with a supportive and loving family member, his brother Theo, who financially supported him so that he could continue painting despite being unable to hold a job or make an income for himself. It seems his brother saw firsthand the transformative power of art, giving Van Gogh at least a few more days, months, years, or sometimes just moments of peace and joy than he would have experienced otherwise.

Oil paints are pricey, require copious amounts of time to complete a piece, need adequate ventilation that may not be available in all classrooms, and can be frustrating for beginning artists. So, we ditched the oil paints for oil pastels!

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The first step in our project was to make a simple outline in pencil first. Students were encouraged to be inspired by the provided images of Van Gogh’s most famous works, but not necessarily to copy. They could make a scene, a still life, a person or animal, or anything else that came to mind. They could then use the pastels to trace over their pencil outline, and add more lines in between to mimic Van Gogh’s iconic style. Students could fill their paper with as many swirls, stripes, or dashes as they wanted as long as they still left white space behind, because next the magic happens!

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After their pastel outline was completed, students could fill in their different areas with watercolor washes, and watch the oil pastel repel the water. Though not a requirement, this technique is especially amazing to watch when washing darker watercolors over bright or light pastel. One of the students even commented that it was “like magic”. This process is simple enough to be enjoyed by students of all abilities with minimal frustration, but also fun for more advanced students. Pro tip: make sure you have enough water in your paints! If your watercolors are brushed on too dry, they won’t repel as strongly. Also, be sure to use paint brushes with soft bristles. Stiff, scratchy brushes are harder on the oil pastel and will not give as neat of a result.

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There is a common narrative that Van Gogh suffered so much because while he was alive his art never became famous and people wouldn’t buy his paintings. I don’t know about that … I am a Doctor Who fan, and for those of you unfamiliar with the show it’s about time travel. Who would have thought, but this whimsical sci-fi TV show ended up moving me emotionally more than any work of cinema I’ve ever seen, and I watch a lot of movies! In my favorite episode, our adventurers go back in time to pay a visit to Vincent Van Gogh. They end up whisking him away to the future, where he can see all his paintings on display in a museum, and hear his fame being lauded. It is hoped that after seeing this, Van Gogh’s spirit will be renewed, and once he is returned to his own time he will not end his life as he did in history. They hope that when they visit that same museum again after their adventure, there will be walls of new Van Gogh paintings, having altered the past by showing Van Gogh his future. That does not end up being the case.

We put so much emphasis in our culture on fame, money, talent, and popularity that it is hard to accept that these things are not a magical panacea to fix all of our problems, and that sometimes these things are not enough to make us happy.

We need to keep reaching out to each other. As this episode concludes,

“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t always spoil the good things and make them unimportant.”

Make it your goal to add to the pile of good things for the people you encounter each day.

A student that had been reluctant about this project at first because they don’t draw or paint ended up having a blast, saying they felt like they were getting to play and be a kid again. A lot of times, that is exactly what art is about! As Van Gogh himself said,  If you hear a voice within you say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. I hope some of you will decide to play and try this project yourself at home! Be sure to check back in the following weeks for more fun project inspiration.

Thanksgiving Weekend

It is frightfully easy, especially when there are so many things going on in our world that are unjust, frustrating, or just plain scary, to only focus on the bad. I am a strong believer in the fact that without recognizing and giving due acknowledgment to that which is not so amazing, real change will never happen. We need to talk about hard things sometimes, and we need to care and allow ourselves to feel pain over events or situations that harm our own well being or the well being of others. However, sometimes the negative can consume us and cause us to forget, ignore, or just plain not notice all the good that still persists in our own life and worldwide. Thanksgiving is always a good time to step away from the frantic, stressful pace of everyday life and constant barrage of bad news to reflect on the moments of joy we’ve experienced throughout the year, because they do exist.

This year, I am beyond grateful for the now 2 full years I have spent as Program Coordinator for The Express Yourself Artshop program at Creative 360 in my hometown of Midland, MI. Artshop is an inclusive arts and wellness program open to students of all abilities, including those with physical, intellectual, or psychological disabilities. I am thankful I have a job that I can look forward to each day, which I know can be as rare as winning the lottery. I above all am thankful for the amazing people I have met, the new friends I have made, and the feelings of love, acceptance, and belonging I experience when I am with them even on the toughest days.

I learn so much that I take home to my own personal art just from experiencing so many different approaches to creating. The photos above are from our recent pre-Thanksgiving bash put on by our Cooking Class. Side note, I even learned that it is possible for me to like green bean casserole. Now that truly speaks to the skill of our Artshop chefs. 

Working with our watercolor class has lit a fire under me to get back into the medium myself in my free time and try some new approaches and styles that are less cautious and constrained.

I love seeing different creators’ takes on inspiration images. An artist’s work shows others how they see the world, which I get to experience firsthand.

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One of my former students’ pieces, obtained in an art trade (that gorgeous red tree lady up there), is the focal point in my newly renovated art studio in the new house. (Another thing to be thankful for this year – saying goodbye to apartment living and having a studio that isn’t my living room! Extensive before-and-afters will follow in a later post – it’s been a real trip.)

I would encourage everyone, whether creatives or not (though I’d argue that seriously, every one of us is creative in some way – it’s human nature.), to challenge themselves to spend more time with people who are different from them in some way. Ask them about themselves, get to know them on a personal level, have interesting chats … Though you are not going to get along with everyone, you will never regret opening up your world.

I’d also encourage you to remember that taking a different path than what you expected does not equate to failure. I graduated with a BAA in interior design, and wanted to work anywhere in the world except Midland, the same city I lived in from age 2 on. Unmet expectations for the future are such an intense fear for most people, myself included.  However, sometimes our expectations just aren’t all that great, and aren’t what we need to be happy.

Sometimes, there is something better waiting for us.
Happy Thanksgiving.

Final Artprize 2017 Series: “Unlimited”

Last week I finally finished the last piece in my 12 part series for this year’s ArtPrize, titled “Unlimited”. For this series, I created 12 mixed media portraits in which the meaning is influenced by the use of pattern and color, one representing each month of the year. Women of all ages, races, and time periods are depicted, each communicating a different theme. I aim for the pieces to speak to women’s collective experiences beyond their differences. 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. I was able to connect with Founder’s Brewing Co. as a venue for my series. I love art, and I love beer so I must say it is sort of a match made in heaven ;).

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May: She Is A Dreamer

I really learned a lot from working on this project. I got experience in drawing portraits of a variety of ages and ethnicity, and with that different bone structures and proportions of features. I also furthered the skill of not choosing an arbitrary medium just because “this is what I want to use”, but choosing the medium that makes the most sense both aesthetically and functionally for a given part of a piece. All 12 in order can be seen below.

In the midst of all this Artprize excitement, life has been filled with a variety of other creative endeavors such as an art trade with former student turned instructor at the arts program I run, some fun summer painting workshops I’ve been teaching, and the purchase of a home which my boyfriend and I are aiming to completely renovate in one month with a combination of hopes, dreams, and elbow-grease ;). I knew that bachelor’s in interior design would come in handy one day!

But seriously, though I adore the unexpected job I found nearly by accident, I also love design. I have assisted friends and family with projects here and there, but I’ve never done something on this large of a scale, and best of all, the project is not for a client but for ME, so I get to tailor everything exactly to my tastes (Well, mine and my partner’s. My other half is so not one of those “whatever you say, honey” kind of guys when it comes to design, and actually wants to be a part of the process. This is equal parts amazing and frustrating depending on the moment ;).).

He didn’t put up a fight about keeping this trippy metallic wallpaper in the bathroom, so I guess we’re alright <3. Now, back to ripping down all the other wallpaper that is not so rad. See you in 10 million years -_-.

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