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.

wonder-woman-superman

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!

 

Advertisements

Exciting News From the MAG Annual Exhibition!

Friday was the opening reception for the Midland Artists Guild’s Annual Juried Exhibition. What’s awesome about this year is that the show actually took place at the gallery I work at as Coordinator for one of their major programs, Creative 360. The piece that was accepted into the show was “She Is Everything At Once“, the 3rd installment in my new series I’ve been working on since late 2015. There was so much amazing work this year, I truly was just excited to get into the show and did not go in expecting any further recognition… and then my name got called for an Award of Excellence. No matter how many years I spend involved in art, I don’t think I will ever lose that factor of complete surprise when something like this happens.

 

For those of you who may have missed previous posts on my new series, I will be creating 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. Each of the 12 will represent a month of the year, the one featured in the MAG show being March. 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.

My goal is to get this series into this year’s ArtPrize in Grand Rapids. With the positive responses I’ve been seeing to images from this series thus far including an award for my January piece at the Greater Michigan Art Exhibition last Fall, I’m certainly feeling hopeful!

1 Year At Artshop

So, I have that goofy little timehop app on my phone, and as I was checking it the other day a text popped up in the “1 Year Ago Today” section in which I was telling my boyfriend, “I have an interview scheduled for tomorrow!” It’s been almost a whole year already since I started at what is basically my dream job. I became interested in art programs geared towards individuals with disabilities and mental illness after picking up the book It’s Kind Of A Funny Story by Ned Vizzini at the library (Before I knew it was also soon to be a movie. As always, the book’s better). The role that drawing his “brain maps” plays in the main character’s recovery as well as how he uses his drawings to bring joy to others was something that stirred immense inspiration within me. I knew I wanted to work with something like this, but all I could think was … crap. I just finished an interior design/art degree. I will not accept that I endured 4 years of blood, sweat, and tears to go into the wrong field. And … I tried to push the thought from my mind. After some weird forays at furniture stores and hardware stores being promised by prospective employers that I’d “really get to do a lot of designing!” yet ending up as more of a sales clerk, I received a mass email through the Midland Artists Guild mailing list calling for instructors for a new art program offering instruction to adults with physical and mental challenges at Creative 360. I had zero teaching experience at that point, but knew I could make art so decided to go for it since I needed a job. The rest is history. This post title isn’t quite accurate, as I’ve worked with Artshop as an instructor for 2-3ish years before becoming Artshop’s Program Coordinator, but it’s been 1 year as an “official” employee. This date a year ago was my interview, and even though I already knew everyone who I’d be talking to, I was freaking out. Artshop is truly such an important part of my life. Yes, it’s my job, but my students feel like friends and family. I want to share with my readers the first full year of my new adventure.
december

December.

I was kind of eased into the job by happenstance because I officially started right around the holidays, which means there was a lot of fun activities going on and of course, parties. Basically, maximum events, minimal drudgery, and everyone was in a really good mood all the time :). The previous coordinator, who was quite an awesome lady herself, came back for a visit for our Christmas party.

 

January.january

I know I’ve mentioned my Art Clash buddy Heather-Dawn Deogracia before (psst! She’s pretty much Midland famous with her recent front page story. Next – the world!). Our artistic styles are pretty in-sync so we’d always clicked, but I had the opportunity to get to know her even better as I was around Creative 360 more often. We started sharing drawings with each other and giving critiques from time to time, and currently we are even working on a collaboration together.

february

February.

My dear friend Heather-Dawn again! When I started as coordinator, I was still teaching 3 of my previously 6 classes. With so many other things going on now I’m down to 1 fine arts class, and I do miss doing fun, crafty, pinterest-esque projects with students. A heart wreath made out of puzzle pieces covered in iridescent paint, what? I find myself sending other instructors lesson plans sometimes being like Do this! …. Or wait, I mean if you want, it is your class now but …. seriously do it. Luckily, most of them don’t see it as bossiness and actually appreciate the suggestions … at least I think ;).
march

March.

One of the things I’ve always been passionate about is empowering artists to get their art out into the world through selling it to the public. It’s not about the money, it’s about having the confidence to say my work is worth something. We opened our Virtual Gallery on facebook, and had our first “live” art sale at Dollar Daze. The guy in the blue Artshop T-shirt is Doug. He is our top salesperson, no joke. Like, I should tip off my previous employer Art Van about giving him a job.

 

april

April.

Our Artshop Redbubble Store is another opportunity to get students’ work out there. We sold a ton of these Easter cards. Look at that adorable pink bunny, how could we not?

 

 

may

 

May.

Everyone knows those wine and canvas or painting party things are all the rage and have been for quite some time. They’re super fun but can be pricey for those on a tight budget, and aren’t really structured for one-on-one assistance. I began teaching Creative Canvas Workshops for Artshop following the same format, and it has been a blast. The workshop in May was tiger day! What has been the coolest thing about these workshops is that a large number of participants often aren’t our usual Artshop students. There is a lot of research coming out now about the benefits of inclusive environments. I love getting together to paint with people of all abilities, and seeing how they encourage each others’ work and learn from each other.

june
June.

Summer is the season of outdoor art fairs. This time, I got to be a vendor not a looker in setting up a booth with the students’ creations. The temperature was in the record highs. I was hot, I was tired, and I realized that for my own art I am only doing indoor art fairs around Christmas, if I ever do any for myself at all. Did I say I was hot and tired?

july

July.

Another month, another art fair. The things you do for love … There’s Doug again! What did I tell you?

 

 

 

 

 

august

 

August.

This wonderful lady would come every Wednesday with a different animal she wanted to paint, and complete a piece start to finish without fail. Seeing what she would come up with next was seriously a highlight to my week. After the summer, she unfortunately had to move to an assisted living facility out of the area. Suffice to say we will all think of her for months and years to come. Her talent and cheerful spirit is simply amazing.

septemberSeptember.

The fall brought our long awaited showcase. Artshop students were able to show their work in a gallery setting along with pieces sent to us from VSA and Do-Art. There were also monologues, musical and choreographed dances performed. It was a celebration of joy, expression, and accomplishment.

october

October.

What’s this? Another art fair! I asked for more opportunities for students to show their work, and I got it. This fair right at Creative 360 was nice because it was indoors and also students had the option of setting up their own table so they could be there with their work throughout the day. The variety and skill level of the handmade works shown was incredible, as was seeing the excitement and pride on students’ faces, many of whom had never had the opportunity to participate in something like this before.november

November.

All in all, I am so glad I get to spend my the majority of my day around people who bring things like this into the world … yes, it’s a fierce looking hot pink and lilac unicorn. Things aren’t always perfect, and there are days I’m frustrated and just want to stay home like any other job. But overall, I love what I do and not everyone can say that. I’m thankful that I can.

Music To Create To That Isn’t Classical

I’m sure there are a couple out there, but I don’t know any artist who creates to complete silence. The music we listen to can definitely have an effect on how we create. Earlier this year I worked with a group of kids and helped them paint while listening to an orchestral score, the kids painting what they envisioned as they listened to the music. I know as a highly visual person, whenever a song comes on I automatically see flashes of images in my head while I listen, even if it is just colors or patterns that the music brings to mind.When it comes to good art-making music, most people seem to swear by classical. I certainly don’t mind classical music, but I tend to prefer songs with lyrics to solely instrumental. I have a wide range that gets me going. Some days I love painting to Minor Threat and The Misfits, but I have found that for fine detail work calmer is better. I love accompanying art with coffee as well, so if the music is too energetic and I am too caffeinated, I will literally just pace and dance around and get about 1/2 as much work done. Also, when I’ve worked all day and been around lots of noise and chaos aka students (gotta love ’em) for the past 8 hours, it’s nice to listen to something tranquil. For your perusal, I’ve assembled a list of calm and creative music that is my muse while working, at least for right now.

Broadcast

Aside from the fact that the lead of Broadcast had one of the most soothing voices I’ve ever heard, the title of this album is called “Future Crayon” so you know it has to be good art-making-music.

San Fermin

I had the pleasure of seeing San Fermin live last fall, and it was one of the best shows I’ve ever been to in my life. I’ve never seen a group of people play so many instruments at once, and play them all like masters.

Michael Nyman

I’ve actually never watched the film this song is from, but a yoga class I took in college used this song in a playlist that would be on repeat during every session. All of his music is equally stunning and tranquil, though this song has remained my favorite.

Elliot Smith

What can I say, I love sad songs.

The Entire Old Boy Soundtrack

Ok, so this movie is far from peaceful as you can see from the featured movie poster above – so brutal – but the soundtrack is ahhhmazing. The music varies in style, but most of it is mainly instrumental and it’s very creative and fun, a perfect backdrop for art. This song I’ve featured is my absolute favorite. The movie is pretty visually amazing as well, if you have a strong stomach (or a blanket to peek through intermittently ;)). Watch the original, do not watch the shitty American version, please and thank you.

Beach House

Again, amazingly soothing vocals and creative melodies. I feel like I’m entering a mythical dreamland when I listen to this band.

Morrissey

I may get accused of being a fangirl, but I seriously do make the best things while listening to Morrissey. Both his solo lyrics and those from his songs with The Smiths also tend to have an eerie way of stating what I’m always thinking.

80s music videos … oy.

So, what do you listen to when you need to concentrate but can’t stand the quiet?

Happy Staycation! + New Work Reveal

be my wings

I’ve been working on this new mixed media drawing for awhile, and with my decision to take a little staycation, I’ve finally had the time to finish it! It is titled, “Be My Wings”, and measures 18×24″. I used prismacolor pencil for the face, prismacolor markers for the ravens, watercolor for both the hair and the background with grey, black, and white chalk overlay, and fabric for the clothing covering the neck and shoulders.

Of course, I have added this design to my Redbubble collection, as well as some new designs inspired by a couple of fun, newly finished ACEO illustrations.

I love buying from all kinds of artists on Redbubble, and have a design of almost every type of product in one form or another except the throw pillows! I’m dying to get one, but it is impossible to decide which design to choose, especially since I feel like changing around all the colors and decor in my apartment yet again. It’s a yearly thing :P.

I know this is a brief post after not writing for so long, but I’ve actually been aiming to spend minimal time online over this week-long break as it is simply gorgeous outside! Lately, I’d been feeling like there was a gloomy bad-luck cloud looming over my head, skulking around and following me just about everywhere I went. However, something seems to have turned a bit in my favor, because I sure picked the right week to take off! Every day has been nothing but perfect warmth and blue skies.

IMAG3175[1]

Can’t beat swimming and a view! Now, onward to more adventures…

Happy “Inspire Your Heart With Art” Day!

Happy “Inspire Your Heart With Art” Day everyone! As I’ve told you before, I love holidays – I mean really love them. There is always that slight letdown after the marathon of nonnstop holiday excitement from Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Years … Who knew there was this fun little holiday to tide us over until Valentine’s Day and Easter? I cannot believe I just learned of its existence this year … !

What a perfect opportunity to send some inspiration out into the world through sharing what my students have worked on throughout the beginning third of my first full semester as program coordinator for Express Yourself Artshop at Creative 360. My students pretty much feel like family members at this point, and I know I mention them a lot. But, for those new to the blog, Express Yourself Artshop is an inclusive arts and wellness program open to all students, including those with physical, mental, and psychological challenges.

I’ve worked with the program as an instructor since it was first established, and I am blown away by seeing how each student has grown since we first met a little over 2 years ago. Without further ado …

A snapshot of our amazing watercolor class! Everyone has such different styles and interests, so it is fun to see what each student comes up with.

Next, the gallery of Heather D.! I call this student and friend my “artistic soulmate” because we share a love of fashion, big eyed girls, and everything retro and vintage inspired.

Our classes are not all about art for your walls. Tons of cool functional and awesome looking wares are being created in our Woodshop class this semester as well. I love this log cabin inspired bird house, I think because it reminds me so much of childhood Lincoln Logs!

It is so much fun to be able to decorate your home with handmade pieces that are unique, and that no one else will have. You don’t have to be what people think of as a traditional “artist” to do it. The top two pieces, by Colleen D. and Amber E., are canvases wrapped in fabric with a cutout from an art print collaged overtop. The wreath below can be created easy and stress free with any medium sized to large craft punch, a wreath form, a free afternoon, and a lot of hot glue sticks handy.

Proud smiles!

Creating, whether your goal is to become a world famous artist or just to calm your mind and relieve some stress, is a HUGE confidence booster. It is also an important tool of communication and self expression, speaking from experience myself. I challenge all of you to try to make at least one thing today, even if it is just a doodle. Happy inspiration!

 

 

Artists To Know: Fashion Is Danger.

I am an odd mix of being that very low maintenance person (I wake up 30 minutes before I have to be out the door in the morning, 15 for looking pretty 15 for eating breakfast) who is super into fashion and style. I’ve mentioned before, I seriously considered going into fashion design earlier in life, before I discovered that sewing machines were not my friend. In 4th grade, I even started a fashion club amongst a group of friends. We all hated sports, and would stay indoors at recess to work on our magazine featuring all original hand drawn designs. Any group correspondence would be typed in Wingdings font in the computer lab to avoid trade secrets escaping before the next volume of our zine was published.

daria_overallcuteness

Not to be confused with this coexisting 1990s era fashion club. ❤ Daria

Though I’m an artsy person, people are generally surprised when they find out how interested in fashion I actually am. I went in blind for a roommate freshman year of college, and got assigned to a girl who actually tevoed America’s Next Top Model and saved it to watch incognito the weekends I went home so I wouldn’t know, because she, I quote, was afraid I would judge her. Until I found out, that is, and was like nah, I watch that show too. Then viewings became a roomie ritual. I’ve honestly never understood why fashion gets downgraded into the position of being a shallower art form. Fashion turns people into living, breathing, sculptures. Yes, aesthetically inspiring clothes aren’t a necessity to life, but is the newest smartphone really either? Plenty of things people create aren’t nessecary, but why live like cavemen or puritans? If something brings joy or interest or the ability for self expression to another’s life, then that’s reason enough for its creation.

Due to my sewing machine phobia, my one stint in the fashion world was at a discount bridal shop. I didn’t know the difference between an empire and an a-line, I had the audacity to suggest a full figured client try a mermaid dress, I don’t get mushy about weddings, and I’m fairly certain my manager had a voodoo doll of me hiding somewhere in her desk. So, I’ve stuck to being an appreciator, and my own personal stylist. Today, I’d like to share with you some of my favorites out there in the fashion world, true artists all.

That is, after this short Flight of the Conchords video from which I ripped the stunning title of this post.

 

Mana – Moi-même-Moitié

I went through an intense period of obsession with Japanese visual Kei bands. For those of you unaware of what that is, you are not alone, and never fear! I am here to educate you. Visual Kei has been a pretty big subculture in Japan since the 80s, and bands have a personal aesthetic and performance style characterized by heavy makeup, elaborate hairstyles and costumes, and androgynous aesthetics – all good things in my book. The most famous is Mana of bands Malice Mizer and Moi Dix Mois. In addition to being quite the guitarist, he is also a fashion designer. His brand, Moi-même-Moitié, was a major force in popularizing the gothic lolita clothing style in Japan. He is famous for modeling his own designs and not speaking in public, like at all. I have to say, I admire his self awareness – Guess what, I want to get to wear all the cool stuff I make, so I’m going to model it. Other times I’ll just wear a suit, depends on my mood. You know what else? Talking to most people is a complete bore, so guess what? Not gonna do it. If you look at all into the history of fashion, many things that are now considered women’s styles started out as men’s styles and vice versa. For all those who get their panties in a bunch over that sort of thing, it’s all just long term fads that then create social norms, and it will change again.

Alexander McQueen

alexander-mcqueen-savage-beauty-exhibit

McQueen is so well known and revered in the fashion world that to have him on this list seems too obvious, but I couldn’t help myself. The surrealism! The whimsy! The kaleidoscope reptile printed fabric!

New York Couture

All of this handmade apparel by New York Couture on etsy looks like it was designed by a 6 year old, then skillfully handcrafted and I love it. Sadly, it’s a bit out of my price range but were I a rich woman, I would rock that owl dress at every occasion.

Madeline Stuart

This inspirational model is 18 years old and wants to change the world. As a professional model with down syndrome, she wants to change the conversation around disability and beauty, and help people to realize that “down syndrome is a blessing, something to be celebrated”. This awesome lady is certainly without limitation, and has already accomplished so much at her young age. She has walked in New York Fashion week, and is the face of cosmetics company Glossigirl. I’m digging the Ariel themed dress.

Role Models Not Runway Models

Carrie Hammer began her Role Models Not Runway Models campaign to highlight women who shake up the traditional images of beauty we are used to seeing on runways, and who are known for more than just being gorgeous (which of course, they all are). They are activists, disability advocates, doctors … In most runway shows, the women are supposed to recede into the background and let the clothes speak. Carrie Hammer was brave enough to let women with stories model her clothing, knowing that their voices would enhance, not detract from her creations. You can visit the above link to meet all of her amazing models.

n-role-models-628x314

“Fashion is so close in revealing a person’s inner feelings and everybody seems to hate to lay claim to vanity so people tend to push it away. It’s really too close to the quick of the soul.” – Stella Blum

“Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than to merely keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us.” – Virginia Woolf

“Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life.” – Bill Cunningham