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.

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 :(.

IMG_20190425_151756

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!

Piet Mondrian – Creative Minds Art History Project

piet.mondrianI promised I’d catch up in posting all my Creative Minds art history projects from the Fall and Winter semesters!

You may not recognize the name “Piet Mondrian“, but I guarantee you’ll recognize his imagery. Mondrian was interested in simplifying art down to its basic essence, and creating a type of universal design that could be used for everything: visual art, furniture, architecture, clothing … I’d say he was pretty successful, as his primary colored designs composed out of different sized squares and rectangles bordered by bold black lines can be found covering posters, furniture, jewelry, shirts, and the pair of Nikes I would buy if I were rich.

We do a lot of painting in the Express Yourself Artshop program, so though we easily could have done the whole “make a grid on canvas with blue painter’s tape” thing, I wanted to try something more original – transferring a Mondrian design onto glass. The glass we used was just glass from the inside of an inexpensive frame. This could be done in any size. The actual frame could easily be used on a future project. We used primarily colored tissue paper for our rectangles, though we happened to have a bit of patterned and textured vellum on hand that can be found in the scrapbooking section of craft stores and is great for mixed media art. The goal is to use thin, transparent paper so light can shine through the glass. I cut a variety of different sized rectangles and squares out of scrap cardboard for students to use as a pattern. Students chose their colors, and then traced different shapes using the patterns until they had a good pile to choose from. They then laid out their shapes on the glass to create the desired pattern. After they were happy with their design, it was time to glue. We just used traditional liquid school glue, but squeezed the glue out on a piece of foil and used a crappy paint brush to paint the glue on the back of the paper so it didn’t get too saturated.

 

The front of the finished product is going to be the glass side without anything glued to it, so if you do end up using papers with a one-sided pattern, you need to glue the side you want to see face down. Once the paper dried, we trimmed any paper that was hanging off of the glass and used a ruler to draw on the glass side (NOT the side the paper was glued on to) with a black, medium tip paint marker. This sharpens and finishes the design, and also disguises any uneven edges.

These can be as simple or as intricate as you want, and are a fun project with a beautiful end result that can be completed fairly independently by all ages and abilities. My students with disabilities who struggle with dexterity were still able to do this on their own and end up with a piece of art they were proud of. Display in a clear plastic plate stand … It would be especially cool in front of a window or other lighted area. Have fun creating :)!

Alexander Calder – Creative Minds Art History Project

09e5c065d1594c85473cc0f55bc4e082I’m a bit behind on sharing my art history projects from Express Yourself Artshop … This one is from the first 5 weeks of the Fall semester! But, never fear, they will all be posted in due time! I am not really a 3D art person (love looking at it, hate creating it!) but even I enjoyed coming up with this upcycling activity based on Alexander Calder, the inventor of mobiles.

The great thing about this project is you can use scraps of literal junk that you have just sitting around the house (or if you are super cleanly and don’t let junk collect, start saving with this idea in mind 😉 ). We used primarily painted embroidery hoops, shower curtain rings, hardware odds and ends, painted toilet paper rolls, and the cardboard part that is left when you’ve finished a roll of colored duck tape!

Students were instructed to pick out a variety of small, medium, and large items that struck their fancy from the pile of supplies, and then start laying them out flat in front of them on the table so that they could plan the basic composition they wanted. Calder’s big focus was kinetic sculptures, which led to his eventual mobiles. These babies are meant to shift and move as they hang (part of why I couldn’t get very clear pictures … That and the fact that there is NO dead space to use as a backdrop in our art studio!). Once they had a layout they liked, they could start tying their most prominent “anchor” pieces together using fishing line with a dot of hot glue on the knot to secure it. After the main components were attached, they could focus on adding smaller pieces both to achieve the balance and/or movement they wanted and add visual interest.

If you have a spare hanger or anything else that you can hang your mobile on to step back and look at how it’s hanging while you create, this helps a lot. As they held it up, it bobbed and shifted and was a great opportunity to play around with some simple physics, adding different smaller weighted objects to either balance or cause purposeful imbalance to their growing mobile. Glass beads attached by making eye-hooks through them with jewelry wire made great counterweights if a student didn’t want to add anymore major elements to their design, but wanted to adjust how the mobile hung.

I work with adults with disabilities and some have dexterity issues and needed a bit of help from time to time with the knots, but this project is for the most part something that all ages can do relatively independently.  When you are done, you will have a dynamic piece of modern art that you’d never guess was made out of castaways!

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.

gustav-klimt-klimts-collages-images-via-principlegallerycom

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.

The-Tree-Of-Life

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.

matisse bowls 2

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!

Monster High Doll Repaint – Peacock Punk

I mentioned that after my first Monster High Doll repaint, I had become addicted and immediately was flooded with ideas for future dolls. I wanted to do a doll where I altered the hair next. A lot of re-painters remove the hair entirely and use doll wigs, but for now I want to focus on using supplies I already have in my bountiful storage. This Draculara doll’s hair was a big ‘ol mess, practically beyond saving. I’d been wanting to do a doll with short hair, so she fit the bill perfectly.

After I’d taken her hair out of it’s ponytail, I took a deep breath and started chopping. I was never one to cut my dolls’ hair as a child, being very protective of them and keeping them in as pristine condition as possible, so this was a bit painful but I knew it was for art’s sake ;). Once I combed the remaining hair out, I was left with mostly the pink with spikes of black in between. I used fray check to mold the hair into the style I desired.

The perfect feather shapes were cut from the leftover fabric of a dress I made years ago (With tons of help from Mom. I am not a sewer.), using a funky vintage pattern from the 70s. I have a bit of what has always been lovingly referred to in my family as “tactile stress”, and so I never ended up wearing this dress a ton because the elastic wrists and extra fabric flopping around on the sleeves irritated the living hell out of me. I ended up eventually selling it to a very excited new owner, sans clothing neurosis.

I left the original skirt underneath for volume, and layered fabric feather shapes with synthetic feathers underneath, accenting  with tiny crystals here and there. There are also feathers embedded into her hair, on her shoes, and hanging from her ears as earrings. Her original face was removed with acetone, and her new face was painted with both metallic and matte acrylics blended with matte medium. I used a gloss medium over the eyes and lips to give them a wet look. Her eyes are also circled with crystals, and a feather pattern grows from her hair onto the side of her face. Her tiny nails and toes are painted to match her lipstick. I’m really digging the 80s rocker /slash/ anthropomorphic bird-human hybrid look this little lady has going on.

I also have one of the werewolf (Clawdeen) dolls, and I am pretty sure my next doll is going to be an Egyptian cat deity, so look out!

These dolls and other fun creative objects can be found in my ebay shop! Here’s to (literally) making new friends!