Artists To Know: Amazing Artist and Designer Parents

In homage to this season where we honor parents through mother’s and father’s day, I wanted to highlight successful artists with families. There is this widely accepted perception that artists (especially women artists) can’t be successful if they start families. The stereotype of the the lone artist dedicated to their craft, eschewing any and all serious relationships lest it distract them from their ultimate purpose of creation still reigns supreme. Acclaimed feminist artist Marina Abramovic has repeatedly spoken in interviews about how having children holds artists back and is a disaster especially for women’s careers. However, isn’t viewing parenting, a role that is traditionally considered feminine, as less then an inherently sexist view? Disclaimer, this is all coming from someone who actually doesn’t want kids! However, it boggles my mind that being an involved parent is often looked at in society as “doing nothing” or underachieving one’s potential. I never thought about it much when I was a kid or teen myself, but how much of a full time job parenting truly is has really hit home for me as friends of mine are beginning to have children, and I see and hear firsthand about their experiences. Even with pretty awesome, well behaved kids, parenting is a 24 hour job. After 18-20 years, the hours may be cut back a little but really it doesn’t end there, it’s a lifetime commitment, and a vocation that is far from “nothing”.

Abramovic made headlines and sparked heated debate when she told German newspaper Der TAgesspiegel: “In my opionon, having children is the reason why women aren’t as successful as men in the art world. There are plenty of talented women. Why do men take over the important positions? It’s simple. Love, family children – a woman doesn’t want to sacrifice all of that”. The following amazing artists and designers with kids prove that you don’t have to.

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Mark Ryden,  forerunner of the pop surrealism movement, used his daughter as the model for this famous (or to some infamous) piece, Rosie’s Tea Party. The painting ended up in the middle of some controversy over the inclusion of Catholic symbols embedded in the piece. Asked amidst the uproar whether he felt people were imposing their own interpretations on his work, Ryden responded, “There are many symbolic meanings in my art that I myself am not necessarily conscious of. The most powerful meanings in art come from another source outside an artist’s own literal consciousness. To me, tapping into this world is the key to the making the most interesting art. Some people find my refusal to explain everything in my work deeply dissatisfying. They can’t stand mystery. They need to literalize it all and tie it up in a neat little package”. As someone who has had people misinterpret the intent of some of my work based on their own bias and subsequently fly off the handle over it, I can empathize. Wrongfully interpreted or not, I am also very against censorship in general and feel people need to be able to handle being confronted with things they don’t always agree with. Ryden’s wife Marion Peck is a successful working artist as well.

 

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Jason Lee, a wedding photographer working in San Francisco, started this project in 2006 when his mother became ill. Because of the need to be careful about germs, her granddaughters’ visiting was restricted. Lee started a blog with these whimsical photos because he wanted his mother to still feel connected to what was going on in the girls’ lives, and he also wished to give her something that would cheer her up and make her laugh. Lee collaborated with his elementary aged daughters to come up with a host of ideas for surreal, comical photoshoots to share with their grandmother. More of the creative and adorable results can be seen here.

 

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Remy Coutarel is an illustrator from France, now residing in Seattle. He sites his young twin boys as a constant source of inspiration for his work, especially with his children’s book illustrations. His cheerful and imaginative illustrations span a variety of styles and subject matter, all with a recognizable sense of movement and unique character creation.

 

 

Children’s clothing line Princess Awesome got its beginning on kickstarter, the collaboration of two moms and good friends, elementary educator Rebecca Melsky and stay-at-home mom, part-time web developer, and seamstress Eva St. Clair. Melsky had a daughter who loved cars and dinosaurs, but would only wear skirts or dresses. Of course, there were no patterns of cars, trains, or prehistoric beasts to be found anywhere except the boys’ section. The two moms saw a gap in the clothing market, and decided to fill it. They started bringing their designs to craft bazaars, not sure whether other parents would like their designs that featured fabric patterns far different from what could be found in the typical girls’ section in department stores. The clothes sold out immediately, and they started getting orders. St. Clair also home schools her 4 children (She’s basically a superhero), and the two knew there was no way they’d be able to keep up with one person sewing out of their home, which is when they turned to kickstarter to fund their business. The rest is history. I love this company. As I think of myself as a child, one who was also not a fan of wearing pants and liked playing with dinosaur figures and matchbox cars and collecting  bugs and rocks just as much as playing with Barbies, I know I would have adored these clothes. Most clothing companies that pop up as an alternative to the typical “girls section” fare tend to veer entirely in the opposite direction of no pink, and no dresses, so that the girls in the middle who may love  stereotypical “boy” things and stereotypical “girly” things end up left out. The company even makes scarves for adults featuring the fun fabrics covering their kids clothing. I need that dinosaur scarf ASAP.

 

Independence Day clothing

Independence day clothing is another line of designs created by a mom that saw a need that wasn’t being filled, and rose to the challenge. ABC news interviewed designer Lauren Theirry in 2015, shining a spotlight on the new company that aims to provide accessible and fashionable clothing to the autistic community. Theirry was a financial news anchor for over a decade before she decided to make the change to becoming an advocate for autism full time. Theirry had no fashion design experience when she started, but she had been helping her son with autism get dressed for 17 years and knew what others like him needed in a piece of clothing. Because people with autism often have issues with fine motor skills and can also have heightened senses, zippers and buttons or rougher fabrics can be extremely vexing and uncomfortable for them. Theirry decided that people with autism, “… deserve better than T-shirts and baggy sweatpants.” She designed a line of clothing in soft fabrics that feature no zippers, buttons, or laces that men and women with autism could easily take on and off themselves. All designs are also completely reversible with no defined front or back side, and are not designed to be gender specific, so that everyone can feel confident and comfortable while wearing them.

 

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The Huffington Post interviewed this last fashion entrepreneur, who is not just a designer mother but a designer grandmother. Karen Bowersox already had business experience from running her husband’s medical practice, but the decision to dive headfirst into the clothing business at 65 was inspired by her granddaughter with down syndrome, Maggie. Finding clothing that fit Maggie’s proportions properly was always a struggle for Karen’s daughter, especially with jeans or pants. Maggie’s family was not alone in this. Having no prior fashion experience, Bowersox reached out to designer Jillian Jankovsky in order to start her own company tailored specifically to children and adults with down syndrome, then called Downs Designs. Bowersox’s company was rebranded in 2016 to NBZ Apparel International after it expanded to provide jeans and slacks not only for people with down syndrome but individuals with other varying disabilities as well, including styles with no buttons or zippers for those struggling with fine motor skills. Bowersox wants people who look at her granddaughter and all individuals with disabilities to see the person first, not the disability first. She believes having clothing that individuals with disabilities can feel comfortable and confident in and that fits correctly is the first step. In the interview with Huffington Post, Bowersox said, “I can’t believe I’m changing the world, all with a pair of jeans“.

These artists, illustrators, and designers are successful because of  their family, not despite them, and their children have inspired them to generate ideas they would not have come up with otherwise. Don’t let others define what limits your potential based on their own fears and prejudices, and to all the parents out there, thank you!

 

One More Series Reveal + More On Redbubble!

december she is connected to everything

Say hello to December – She Is Connected To Everything. What can I say, I’ve been on a roll lately. I don’t think I’ve ever finished so many different pieces 2 days at a time in my life … Granted, I haven’t been doing much of anything else in my free time, as the pile of dishes in the sink will tell onlookers ;). Though all the pieces in my current series I’ve been working on are similar in style and use of medium, I wanted to keep them different enough that each could stand alone as well. I went a lot softer and less graphic, high contrast with this piece. I even used some leftover dried moss I had purchased for a felt floral arrangement commission earlier this year in the girl’s woodland crown. There is something I never thought in a million years I’d ever use in one of my drawings!

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I have been getting all my series posted to my Redbubble Shop as well, available for print on a variety of gorgeous items. My series also finally has a name … Unlimited. Each individual piece has it’s own title and the works cover a variety of different themes, so coming up with one title to encompass the whole was a struggle. At it’s heart though, this series is about the best of humanity, and about the strength, curiosity, compassion, and vibrancy of women across time, nationality, and ability. It is about the common ground that unites us, and when people come together, they truly become unlimited.

New Art! 2 Down 2 To Go!

Struck by both some luckily timed inspiration and ever looming deadlines, I have buckled down on my series and completed 2 more pieces, which means only 2 more to go! I actually think these 2 new ones are among my favorites so far. Series-explanation-blurb time for those new readers! “Unlimited” is composed of 12 mixed media portraits in which the meaning is influenced by the use of pattern and color. 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. Pieces are primarily drawing and painting, accented with mixed media elements and metallic details.

october she is full of curiosity

For the above, titled “October: She Is Full of Curiosity”, I incorporated a lot more mixed media elements which I felt meshed well with the “vintage study” atmosphere of the background. I used quilting fabric for the wallpaper, leather upholstery samples for the book cover, decoupaged book pages for the inside pages and title, an art book clipping for the picture on the wall, ink for the woodwork, watercolor for the outdoor scene, lace overlay for the girl’s collar, metallic acrylic for her hair, and prismacolor pencil for most of the figure and clothing.

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In this next piece, titled “July: She Is Free In Mind and Spirit”, I took almost the opposite approach, not using any fabric or found object materials and sticking solely to the traditional art materials of prismacolor pencil, watercolor, and acrylic paint. I’d had all the pieces for my series pre-planned as far as composition and subject matter since late 2015. However, this one took flight (haha, bad pun) on its own quite recently after I realized that I had a variety of ages and races represented in my planned artworks, but not a variety of abilities. Given that I work with an art program that serves individuals with disabilities, this oversight stopped me in my tracks. I’m always harping on inclusion and the lack of representation of people with disabilities in the public and entertainment sphere to anyone who will listen (and even those who don’t want to sometimes), and yet I realized they were not included in my project that was all about inclusion, unity, and representation. I was thus tasked with coming up with a visible disability that could be seen in just a head and shoulders portrait rather than a full body rendering. This lively young woman with down syndrome who exudes confidence, energy, and life evolved over the incredibly short course of two interrupted days with no pre-planning or sketching beforehand which is very uncommon for me. I don’t know that anyone else will see it, but this piece definitely holds the most emotional connection for me.

For more deeply personal and unconventional portraits, check out self-taught contemporary artist Stephen Martyn Welch’s “Everyone Deserves A Portrait” series inspired by his son who was born with Kabuki Syndrome. Keep checking for the last two! I’m on a roll ;)!

New Series Re-Imagines Childhood Drawings

Now that I got all of my work finished for the upcoming Michigan all area shows I am entering, I wanted to take the opportunity to spend some time on a new project that I’d done sketches for about 2 years ago and never revisited after getting distracted by mountains of other projects. Working with kids and youth over the summer at Creative 360 while Artshop was on break,  we did lots of acrylic painting. Acrylics is a medium I’d abandoned over the last couple of years, and it made me miss it.

I had a teacher once who said you will always be who you were when you were 8. You may drift in the in-between teen years; who doesn’t go through an identity crisis at least once in high school or within early young adult age; but you will always come back to the most basic facets of personality you exhibited as child. At your core, you are who you were at eight years old and will still be at 80.

When I think about it, at 28 I do share many of the same traits with my 8 year old self. I still adore books, I still have my own distinctive and at times highly experimental fashion sense (I was wearing sun glass frames with the lenses popped out far before hipsters ever existed.), I am still always actively finding ways to meld creativity with vocation, I still am obsessed with all things design oriented (Look how pumped I am about my digital runway show I’ve put together on that snazzy Windows 95), and I still can’t sleep unless buried under 3+ layers of blankets even in summer :P.

Luckily for me, and this project, my mother is amazing and has the best of my childhood drawings from each year of my life archived in a neat, chronological little binder, so finding artwork examples was no big thing. I have chosen a drawing from each year, 2-10 (nothing for year 1, I’m not that amazing.) I will be using the same subject matter, colors, and proportions to re-imagine these childhood drawings as fine art acrylic paintings. Here is the first piece I’ve completed for age 4.

Kid drawings aren’t all the same when you really look at them, and you truly can tell a lot about someone from what they create, same as with adults. Here are some other fun projects people have done taking inspiration from kids’ drawings.

Bored Panda / Go Monster Project

Cafe Mom / Parents Turn Their Kids’ Art Into Tattoos

Huffington Post / Mom-Toddler Painting Collaborations

Busy Mockingbird / Artist Collaborates With 4-Year-Old Daughter

Doodle Your Toys / Custom Handmade Plush Toys

 

New Work : January

Happy 2016 Everyone!

Since I took a year off after showing at Art Prize in 2014, I have been trying to come up with another big idea to enter in 2016. For Art Prize, you kind of have to go big or your art will get lost among the crowd. The problem is, I hate working large. I’ve tried, but it’s just not as fun for me. I like the intimacy of smaller pieces that you really have to step right up to to acknowledge all the finer details. I also can’t imagine limiting myself to just one subject or image. With art, I tend to zoom around from one idea to another like a little bee who has accidentally found its way into someone’s cup of espresso. Because of this, I knew I wanted to do another series of smaller pieces hung together for impact. Another thing I have to be careful of, as with any artist, is falling prey to the “Master of None” syndrome. Master of None : Great television show, death when used to describe an artist’s body of work. After kicking around (and half starting) a variety of different ideas, I decided to stick to the conceptual portraits I have been developing over the last two years rather than trying a style that I like, but haven’t spent much time with. I will be doing a series of 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.

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A new piece will be released each month, with an accompanying title, “She Is ________________”.

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January – She Is Far Away

As with much of my other portrait work, I find my inspiration in nameless antique photographs. The simple, faded photos tell me a story, which I then bring to life in my mixed media drawings. I was drawn to a photo of a young girl, her hair piled and molded into an elaborate, fashionable sculpture, draped in a fine, silken dress an adult would surely appreciate, but that did not look like it was very conducive to play. Her eyes had a far off look to them. Her expression was a mixture of bored and melancholy, but to me it even looked like she was trying to hide these negative emotions to remain neutral and pleasant for the camera.

In “January”, her traveling thoughts are personified as children’s drawings on a crumpled piece of notebook paper, flowing from her mind. Though she has been made up to look like a miniature adult, the very model of sophisticated fashion, her imagination dreams the dreams of children: dinosaurs, astronauts, rocket ships, and animal creatures of the air and sea. These thoughts are purposefully camouflaged into the rest of the image, the colors so paled and harmonious the viewer almost doesn’t notice. What does stand out is the heavy grid work of the window behind and the bold, contrasting pattern of the adjacent curtains. She is closed in, separated from the free, bright winter landscape outdoors, hidden behind frosted windowpanes.

How often are children treated like dolls, especially young girls? I mean last week, I was at the mall and I saw sparkly high heels for babies. You heard that right, high heels for beings that haven’t even entirely learned how to walk yet. Let me know how that works out. The words we use to describe them are even descriptors we would use for dolls : pretty, cute, adorable, beautiful … Now, there is nothing wrong with compliments, nothing wrong with telling someone they look nice. However, as parent Sharon Holbrook states in her  Washington Post article Little Girls Don’t Need To Be Told They’re Beautiful, “The more I talk about beauty and looks, even in a positive way, the more I’m conveying the importance of those things.” Disproportionately young girls are complimented for their looks, while young boys are complimented for their performance. The thing is, looks change, and by emphasizing “prettiness” over all other traits, girls can be set up for poor confidence in the future. When girls feel that their value lies in how they look, it limits their perception of their own potential, and they will even start to limit the activities they engage in for fear that they will look “bad” or “ugly” while trying a new activity. I am a big fan of Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, and think it is just about one of the coolest organizations out there right now. This concept is behind Smart Girls’ Get Your Hair Wet campaign, encouraging young girls to live life the fullest, be open to trying new things, and focus on the experience itself rather than worrying about how you look while doing it. I remember being a kid, and seeing some of my female classmates refuse to get into the pool in swim class because they “don’t look cute with wet hair”, or not wanting to play tag at recess on a hot day because they might get sweaty and “look ugly”. Do you think any 9 year old boys were out there worrying about being sweaty???

All in all, it all comes down to a vocabulary adjustment, and complimenting girls on things that they actually have control over, rather than things gifted to them in the great lottery of nature. It comes down to being mindful, complimenting a young girl (or adult woman for that matter) on the creative way she put together the awesome outfit she is wearing, or the great smile she has when she gets excited about something. It also comes down to treating kids like kids; holding them back from trying to grow up too fast, letting them get messy, letting them wear things that might look insanely goofy, and allowing them to hold onto that complete lack of self-consciousness that comes with being a kid for as long as humanly possible.

 

 

 

Gender Inequality : Not Just A STEM Issue

Piece from a project tallying art world inequality and creating posters out of the data collected.

In this post, I’d like to talk about an issue that is close to my heart. It covers a range of bases, so I’ll try not to jump around too much. I have to start off by giving a little bit of history. I have always had a hyper-awareness towards injustice. I have a vivid childhood memory of cringing whenever the old Trix cereal commercials would come on in between my morning cartoons. I could just feel the righteous anger bubbling up inside of me as the kids taunted the Trix Bunny with choruses of “Silly rabbit …” They have no right to say that Trix are only for kids, not rabbits! He invented the freaking cereal! He’s on the cover of the box for crying out loud! There would be no colorful fruity shapes without him! (This was, of course, when I was young enough to think the animated characters running around before my eyes actually existed in real life.) So naturally, when I began to perceive instances of gender bias in the adult conversations I eavesdropped on and the kids around me at school, I did not approve. Basically, Lisa Simpson and I would have been soul mates. It was kind of a shock, since my home growing up had been completely void of any such thing. My brother and I were given the same expectations, and when we were approached differently by mom and dad it was due to our completely opposite personality types, not our gender. We were four years apart, kind of the perfect gap: close enough in age so that we could still relate to each other well enough to play together, but far enough apart so that we weren’t constantly feeling like we needed to compete. We shared toys all the time, and both played with stereotypical “boy” things and stereotypical “girl” things from time to time. It wasn’t really a big deal.

Despite what people think (I mean, everyone can vote now so it’s all good, right?), gender discrimination is not just a distant memory, and it continues to hurt both men and women, though for today I’ll mainly be talking about women. Gender separation in toys has gotten way worse than it ever was in the past, with every single little toy down to a basic set of blocks relegated to being pink or blue. Some consumers are finally saying enough is enough with the “Pink vs Blue” binary madness, and are also seriously starting to question what the doll section in any local walmart or toy store is communicating to young girls. I myself have wondered that same thing, and my queries have most often led to nothing good. Enter Lammily, a doll with realistic body proportions, moveable joints that allow her to do more than simply be a human clothes hanger, and stickers to add imperfections we all have like acne, scars, and cellulite.

The toy problem is just the tip of the iceberg. The US has one of the worst science gender gaps in the developed world, and marketing ridiculous shirts like these below to young girls certainly isn’t  helping.

It’s no wonder educators and innovators are doing anything and everything they can to encourage young girls towards STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics).

Every little bit helps, and I am in no way downing any of the goodhearted initiatives mentioned above, I just think we can do more. We can always do more, do better, be more comprehensive in our reach. I have to admit, if the Lammily doll would have existed when I was a kid, taking one look at her ultra-preppy wardrobe of mostly simple solids, I would have totally still begged for the anorexic doll with giant boobs, ideals be damned. Why can’t a realistic doll still wear lace and sequins or giant earrings or crazy neon floral patterns once in awhile? Realistically, that’s how some girls actually dress! Giving her a more subdued, athletic looking, polo-shirt-laden wardrobe isn’t revolutionary at all. In fact, in the real world, that sort of style is actually preferred and women who step outside of that and dress more “girly” are more likely to be perceived negatively. It has been proven that women who wear more masculine clothing (simple, straight silhouettes, angular lines, dark neutral colors) are perceived as more competent in the workforce, taken more seriously and given a higher level of respect in their current job, and are more likely to get hired to a new position. This is also why you see frantic posts by young women online asking whether it’s ok to be a feminist and wear makeup or dresses or high heels. Yes Virginia, there is as of yet no official uniform for thinking equality is a rad idea.

Similarly, encouraging a girl towards STEM who is truly interested in science but is simply intimidated or feels like “Well I’m not supposed to do this because I’m a girl,” or encouraging a girl who is worried to stand out from her peers and be teased if she admits she thinks math is fun, is truly awesome. How amazing for a kid to realize what their passion is so early in life, and to help them grow and learn in that passion is a beautiful thing. However, I sometimes worry that in trying to tear down walls we are simply creating a new sort of box. What about the artsy girls?

New York Times explains why we actually need STEAM (Science Technology Engineering ART Mathematics), STEM alone is not enough. The idea that a person is either right brained or left brained doesn’t work. We need to use both sides to be effective. I took science all 4 years of high school even though it wasn’t required. The decision was at first at the urging of my parents, but though the exams were killer, I loved getting to move forward into taking Chemistry and Physics and found the information and experiments in class fun and inspiring. When I teach children, I love integrating scientific experimentation into art. It’s great for keeping kids focused and involved. Recently I did a project with my children’s watercolor class where we tested how lemon juice, rubbing alcohol, salt, oil, and milk reacted with the paints, and afterword they made pictures incorporating the new textures they learned how to create.

Yes, girls are underrepersented in STEM fields but the fact of the matter is they are also woefully underrepresented in the art world. Art News reported this year on findings from over the last 7, where on average women artists exhibited in only 10-20% of the solo shows at American Institutions over the last 7 years. A slightly smaller percentage of women artists were featured in group shows. Before you protest, “But they are just picking the best art!” these percentages apply to non-anonomous submissions. Truthout reported in their article, Women Artists Still Face Discrimination, that studies have shown if you submit work to a juried exhibit and the jurors don’t know the gender of the person submitting, it ends up pretty equal in terms of who is selected. But as soon as the artist’s gender is known, women drop back to one third. It is why pen names are still a thing in art as well as literature. Famed writer of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling, has been pretty candid about the fact that way back when she was told she should publish the series under her initials rather than her first name, Joanna, because young men won’t want to read books written by a woman. (They will not only assume it to be poorly written, but will fear catching any residual “cooties”.)

Why choose only one genre of barrier to break down? We should be smashing all of them, all while encouraging our own children and the kids around us to excel in the area they love, whatever it ends up being.