Interview With The Artist

A couple of months ago, I was interviewed for an article on the website of a local artists’ group I’m a part of. The interviewer asked some thought provoking questions, so I thought I’d share my answers here for those who are interested in gaining a little more insight behind my work and process. You can also check out the resulting article on the Exploding Circle of Artists website. Friend and fellow artist Heather Deogracia manages and writes articles for the site, and I’d also encourage you to check out her blog. She is an innovative artist, fierce mental health advocate, and regular volunteer and supporter of art happenings in the community.

1. Why do you do what you do?

I have been drawn to creating pretty much since birth, and was lucky to be supported and encouraged in this from a young age. Art has always been a therapy for me and a vital avenue for communication and expression as someone who has also experienced social anxiety well, pretty much since birth. In addition to creating art myself, I also run an inclusive arts and wellness program at Creative 360 geared towards adults with disabilities. Every day I see how creativity both empowers the creator and impacts those around them. Integral to my own personal art and my day job is the idea that everyone can be an artist, everyone can do something creative that touches another person and it is never too late to begin.

2. How do you work?

For the most part I work in my home studio. I started out as primarily a pencil and ink drawing and watercolor artist, but at this point it is rare that I only use one or two materials in a piece. I have fallen in love with mixed media, and though the main bones of my art are usually created in prismacolor pencil, ink or watercolor, I enjoy mixing in acrylic, metallic enamel paints, beads, fabric and lace, old jewelry pieces, collage from old books, and other findings. I especially enjoy using materials I have been gifted by friends or family that have a specific memory or story attached. For a recent project, I used sparkly lace scraps leftover from a very extra angel costume my mom sewed for me when I was five, and some mismatched clip-on earrings that belonged to my grandma.

3. What are the background themes and ideas that makes your work stand out?

With my art, I enjoy making the internal external. I’m very interested in the dynamic of the individual’s public/interacting self versus their private self. Rather than using dramatic facial expressions in my portraits, I tend to leave their expressions mysterious and neutral and let the external surroundings speak to the content of the subject’s mind and soul. This most likely stems from my interior design background, and the idea that the external environment should reflect the people who inhabit it. Much of my work involves psychology and is inspired by my own thoughts and experiences, but I like to leave the visual narratives open ended so that each viewer can bring their own experiences to a piece and connect with it in their own way.

I am fascinated with the detail in both the external and internal structure of all living things; humans, plants, and animals. The natural world around us is truly filled with the most amazing forms of living sculptures if we take the time to look, and keeping this idea in mind reminds me even on the worst of days how luck we are to be alive. This appreciation of observing and exaggerating the most minute details in the world around us is another element that finds its way into my work.

4. How would you describe your style and how is it integral to your work as an artist?

My style is very vintage inspired, and I like to make my art timeless in a way by incorporating visual elements from all different time periods. I am also influenced by surrealism, and always want to show people something in my art that they can’t see in real life. In my work with portraits and figures, I look to antique photos as a reference and usually combine multiple sources to create the exact body and face I am picturing in my head for a certain piece. I am very much a visual thinker, and one day a friend was venting to me over the phone about a stressful week she’d had. (I promise I was listening, but …) As she was talking, I started to see a little cartoon in my head of her standing staring at me, wearing a tall top hat, and her brain was growing out of the top of the hat with all types of different objects representing what she was thinking about sticking out of the protruding brain … The image was a nice blend of hilarious and disturbing, and also gave me the idea to start doing portraits with visual representations of each subject’s thoughts flowing outside of their body.

5. What role does the artist have in society?

Though we don’t always realize it, art and design is everywhere around us in our society … In the music we hear, in the buildings we live and work in, in the ads or posters we see, the clothes we wear, the furniture we sit on, the movies and tv shows we watch, and the list could go on and on. Without art, our world would be empty, inefficient, and without meaning. Beyond that, art has the power to give people a voice. Art is an important tool for communication, and is able to open people’s minds to ideas they may not be as receptive to if delivered in a different way. Each artist has to define their own role for themselves based on the goals they have for harnessing their own personal form of creativity. As for me, I feel called to use art as a tool for connection and reaching out to others. Sharing the therapeutic benefits of creating with others is a priority for me because of the anchor I know it has been in my own life. I aim to make art and creativity accessible to all, no matter their age, ability, income, or any other qualifier. Do artists have to use their skills to make the world a better place? I suppose no one technically has to do anything as we all have autonomy over our own lives, but I certainly think they should.

6. What is your favorite artwork you’ve created and why is it your favorite?

This is a hard question as I develop a connection to almost every piece of art I create like they are my children, no joke. That being said, at this point my favorite piece of art I created is “July: She Is Free”. This piece was from a 12 part series titled “Unlimited” that I showed at Founder’s Brewing Company for ArtPrize 2017. The series was comprised of 12 mixed media, surreal portraits in which the meaning was influenced by the use of pattern and color. The series depicted women of all ages, races, and time periods, each communicating a different story. The aim was 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 currently reside. But of course, there are women everywhere living out their day to day lives 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. We are all worthy of love, safety, respect, and dignity. I am particularly attached to July because it depicts someone with a visible disability, something that is almost never seen in portrait arts. I am a huge proponent of disability rights, empowerment, and visibility. This piece was shown and awarded at the Midland Artists Guild’s Annual Juried Exhibition of 2018, and I actually overheard an attendee afterwards whispering to a friend, “But why would you want to draw those kind of people?” This is why I do what I do. Visibility and education are vital, as prejudice is rooted in ignorance. I aim to continue to challenge what beauty is in art.

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.

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!

New Art + Forced Inspiration

So, awhile back I did a post on artist block, something I had been lucky to never really experience too much until very recently. It’s not that I didn’t have a ton of ideas, I quite simply wasn’t enthused about any of them for whatever reason and the execution just wasn’t flowing. I’m sure this had a lot to do with the crazy amount of stress I’ve been under this year for various reasons, but nevertheless I really desperately wanted to make some art I was actually excited about. I remembered how when I used to write poems and short stories back in college to unwind, if I felt the urge to write but had no clue what to write about I would put my iPod (HA, who has those anymore?) on shuffle and use the first song title that came up as inspiration for my short story, or else I’d use a random word generator and the word that came up had to be the title.

I decided to revisit this old, rather silly process of chance to see if it would jumpstart my creative but very stressed and exhausted brain. I did 4 trios of word generations, wrote them down in my sketchbook, and started drawing. It worked! I instantly came up with 4 ideas that I could easily relate to thoughts that had been jumbling around in my brain anyway, but that I just didn’t know how to access and release.

For this first one, inspiration was to be drawn from the words lung, tie, and morning.

Constrict

I ended up being so happy with how it turned out that I’m keeping it! I have the perfect spot in my living room, and actually only realized after I’d hung it up that the fabric I collaged for her jacket matches a swatch on my fabric scrap pillow I made about a decade ago that is now sitting on my accent chair ^_^.

“Breathe” was drawn using prismacolor pencil for the figure, and ink for the background. I used fabric for the jacket, old book pages for the wall art, hand marbled paper for the exposed lungs, and embroidery thread for the vein detailing that trails up to her neck and tangles around her fingers. The figure is a mix of multiple references I gathered to match the image I had in my head of what I wanted her to look like.

As I mentioned before, this year has been rough. I’d been experiencing sensations of feeling trapped, confined, constricted, suffocated … Even simple acts such as breathing, eating, sleeping were in a way loaded issues, made more complicated by both external and internal factors. This was some of what was on my mind while creating this piece, but as always it is not without elements of hope and promise of a future through the oxygen giving plants and botanical imagery throughout, and sunlight pouring in through the open window.

I’m sure others may even see something totally different in the story as viewed by their own thoughts and experiences, and if anyone wants to share what they saw going on I always love to hear others’ interpretations – Feel free to send a comment or message! Love to you all, and remember, you always hear that you don’t want to force inspiration but … sometimes you have to to get anything done and that’s okay ;).

Though I’m not letting go of the original as of right now, prints will soon be available so check out my eBay shop to snag one!

Monet – Creative Minds Art History Project

Since I’d been covering a lot of modern day artists lately with my Creative Minds class like Betsy Youngquist and Elizabeth Jameson, I wanted to start the new semester with another visit to the past with one of the founders of Impressionism, Claude Monet.

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Though he used oil paints, we stuck to a mix of acrylic and oil pastel to avoid the mess and because these materials are easier for beginning artists. In order to … Well, I don’t want to say “force” but yes, force ;), the students to try painting in more of an impressionist style rather I had them use circular foam brushes to apply paint rather than the traditional bristled brushes. They were shown how to quickly pound up and down with the foam brush to create the texture of foliage, how to lay it on its side and drag it across the surface to create short or long streaks, and how to simply use it as a stamp to create circular shapes. However, the favorite technique was double or triple loading their brush with different bright and dark colors and experimenting with how easily they could create the impression of light and natural blending with a simple stroke of their foam brush. Students that struggle with fine motor skills ended up preferring the foam brushes to using a regular paint brush.We looked up photos of local natural areas to use as inspiration for our paintings, and students then moved forward to create an “impression” of what they saw and how it made them feel. Some used natural colors, others, like some of Monet’s own work, either exaggerated the boldness of the colors or used different colors entirely.

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Monet used a lot of bridges in his artwork, so many of the students chose scenes with bridges for their inspiration. We used oil pastels to draw the bridge over our scene at the end. Success!

 

This is another project that is great for all ages and abilities. Those with more advanced art skill can always add more detail, and working with creating the idea of a scene rather than trying to create an exact copy of an inspiration photo takes a lot of the pressure off and allows students to just enjoy playing with paint and experimenting with a new art style. Don’t be afraid to go try it for yourself! Happy creating :).

Betsy Youngquist – Creative Minds Art History Project

For my final Creative Minds class of this Artshop semester, I chose another current artist as the class inspiration that would also give us the opportunity to work with some summery materials (Based in MI, we are hoping it gets warmer someday!).

 

Betsy Youngquist is a surreal mosaic and sculpture artist who works with a lot of unique materials traditionally associated with crafting like beads and doll making supplies. On her website, she writes, “Children with their vast capacity for wonderment weave tales of gossamer, create magic kingdoms, and pass through invisible portals to lands of untold enchantment. As we follow the Yellow Brick Road in quest of Emerald Cities, those portals become hidden to us, removing our access to the wonderland within. Creating art is a means to return to the looking glass and reenter the garden where flowers whisper and birds can talk. As my beaded characters emerge they carry with them tales from the other side of the mirror. I am grateful for the joy and astonishment experienced through this journey.”

Since we only had one class to finish this project and student attention spans vary, I took inspiration from one of her smaller works, a bedazzled seashell! As mentioned before, this project was also perfect to get everyone in the mindset of warm weather vibes. It may only be a high of 45-50 degrees as of tomorrow but at least we didn’t get the snow that was projected to fall this weekend … Again, Michigan problems :(.

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Having an array of hobby tweezers with different angled ends is a must for this project to help in placing the beads, though there is no need to use teeny tiny seed beads as you can see from the finished projects! All of my Creative Minds students have a disability of some type, and many struggle with dexterity. The tools I’ve linked above helped them enjoy the process and experience success in creating their surreal, whimsical shells. It was easiest for them to apply a bit of glue inside the shell first, and then use the tweezers to just set the bead into the glue, just in case you want to try this at home! All you need is an array of different sized and shaped beads for creating patterns – glass, plastic, or whatever material is available to you works just fine. Though you could use specialty glues like E6000, we used tacky glue in class which adhered well and dries crystal clear. I also made sure to get some “oddities” as a nod to the surrealist quality of Youngquist’s work in the form of some realistic eye charms, though of course students will add their own creative edge to the inspiration project (Frozen, anyone? 😉 ). They were encouraged to start with a central focal point created either by a larger found object or a grouping of one color, and work radially out from that point.

I am so impressed with the results! They really rose to the challenge and created some gorgeous conversation pieces to display in their home. Beaded mosaics are another project that can be adapted to all ages and abilities, and something that anyone can enjoy even if they don’t feel they are “good at art”. The repetitive process of placing beads becomes calming and meditative as you work. A new semester starts in a week, and I am looking to learning about more artists from the present and past together with a new group!

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 ;).