Creative Minds Art History Project – Vincent Van Gogh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I’m Back With Some New Art!

This first piece in a new series was a long time coming … I am obsessed with working small, and tend to work in 11×14 or maybe 16×20 max, and wanted to start doing pieces that were at least 18×24 or larger to allow me to include more detail and further develop the background in my pieces. My new series, Dwell, really taps into my background of interior design study. These pieces will contemplate how our environment affects us, but also how we interact with and affect it. The word dwell also has a double meaning, not just the physical space where we live but the places we create inside us that we allow our mind to dwell in. How are these psychological spaces affecting us, and how much control do we have over them or they over us?

“Dwell In Possibility” was a challenge for me because it involved a lot of brown, a color I literally never use in art. I tend to create pieces that are mostly grayscale tones with pops of bright color, and gray just would not have been right for the earthy feeling I wished to evoke. The other challenge to this piece was that I was creating an interior that was not very attractive or intricate … the remains of a decaying building, dirt floor, rough wood paneled walls, weathered plaster ceiling once grand but now stripped of any color or design … The only furnishing an abandoned, sun bleached chair frame.

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I did a lot of layering of different media overtop one another, and used my clear prismacolor pencil blender for the first time in my entire life. I usually use a white pencil to blend, but this time I couldn’t use an opaque blender because I wanted to be able to still see the underlayer of watercolor through the blended pencil. I left the flowers and hair purely impressionistic watercolor as opposed to the detail in the background and the model’s face. I didn’t use as much dimensional mixed media as usual, not wanting to add too much clutter, and stuck to a lace fabric overlay on her dress and clusters of beads for the centers of the poppy flowers.

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The closer you look, you will see there is a lot more going on than just a smiling woman holding a bouquet. She is already stationed in an odd setting, an old deteriorated building. She is surrounded by decay, including uprooted, dying plants. Even some of the flowers in her hands are dead or dying, but they are slowly coming back to life as she grasps onto them, holds them and nurtures them. Behind her through the door there is a cavern of light, where a grand tree has taken hold. There are no leaves yet, hardly any soil for his roots to grasp onto, yet he is still alive somehow. Robins circle around, a bird that symbolically means rebirth. Change and growth are always possible.

As you can also see, I can’t seem to put down the metallic gold acrylic lately! At work, my students always want to cover everything they make in metallics and glitter, which often makes me shake my head, but I can understand the temptation ;). Speaking of which, I am starting a new class called Creative Minds where each week students will be learning about an accomplished artist of the past or present, and completing a small project based on that artist’s iconic style with a focus on artists with disabilities and mental health. I will be sharing my projects as well as some of the students’ interpretations, so be on the look out for a new project post each week! I am hoping some of you reading this will want to try it at home yourself. It’s always fun to play :D!

June ArtSnacks Unboxing!

My ArtSnacks Challenge illustration this month was created using past profile pictures as a reference, an homage to my love of eccentric fashion and costumes year-round, and my lifelong fascination with what creates identity.

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I mentioned in a previous post how art has been an important tool of expression for me throughout my life. Turning myself into the things I wanted to be at the moment as if I was just another blank sheet of paper was another part of this. It always boggled even my own mind how in school I was too embarrassed to even stand up and go throw something away in the trash in the middle of a class lest I draw attention to myself, but I’d wander about town on the weekends in full zombie makeup in the middle of July and not feel a bit of trepidation. When people would talk about identity, or “groups” both in grade school and now, I have never known what to say for myself. I’ve never felt that I strongly identify with one certain label or category in any area of my life, but am instead either nothing or everything all at once. Most likely, I am the latter. It was fun doing something that was more of an actual, personal “art journal” page, and also reliving many fun memories through fashion of years past! As an adult at work all day, for the most part now I either wear meeting clothes or messy-art-class-clothes :-/.

In this box I received a:

I appreciated the sharpener not only because of the snazzy ArtSnacks exclusive color that is very close to what I’ve just painted the front door on my house, but also because I had previously only had cheapie sharpeners akin to what kids bring in their elementary school pencil case. This is admittedly odd for someone who works so much with colored pencils! They had me at their automatic stop function as I tend to be rough on pencils and am always breaking the leads. The fact that you can sharpen the wood and lead separately for the perfect point is also a very unique feature. I like it!

The SumoGrip eraser was another favorite. I’ve mentioned before how nothing beats Pentel Click Erasers in my mind, but I think my old friend may have finally met its match! I was freaked out at first by the black color, expecting it to leave dark smudges on the paper but it left no traces behind, and did not require a lot of pressure or abrasion to lift graphite from the paper. I’m impressed.

The pencil was also nice, and I can’t say I have any complaints but I will always be a mechanical pencil girl overall. Still, if I ever need to reach for a traditional pencil this will not be a poor choice.

I love brush markers, and the one that came with this box was no exception. What I noticed right away is the lack of bleeding for an alcohol marker. Another bonus is the fact that you can replace nibs and refill the ink in each marker base rather than having to replace the entire body when it runs out. Excellent performance – I will definitely be looking into buying some more of these.

Lastly, the Millennium pen. Longevity was a big focus of these pens which is very important to me as I don’t just sketch with pens, but incorporate ink drawing into many of my finished fine art pieces as well. It made a nice line, and did dry far quicker than the other pens I usually use which helped avoid smudging, and it did not bleed at all when the marker was applied. Another win!

This is my last unboxing for a bit since I only got a 6 month subscription at first to try it out. (I also need to get a chance to really explore these supplies in more than just my art journal and see if I want to get a full set of any of them to use in my large scale art!) All in all I have enjoyed having ArtSnacks as my first experience with subscription boxes, and have felt there was great value in the supplies that were sent each month. I’d definitely recommend.

Happy drawing!

A Month In The Life of An (Almost) 30 Year Old Artist

Well, I missed posting this month’s Artsnacks unboxing, which is unfortunate as March is Artsnack’s birthday month as well as my own! I still did a very late Artsnacks challenge art journal entry (this morning, actually ;)), and I swear I had good reason! This month has been a busy one, and just kind of flew by in a blur.

Since the end of last year, I’ve had trouble getting any art really going. I started a handful of things, but then got stumped and had to put them away until who knows when. Artist’s block is common, but I have not experienced such a thing for a long time. It’s weird, and I don’t like it.

Since I don’t have any big personal projects that are going anywhere, I figured this was the perfect time to go out on a limb and try something new. When I saw a call for proposals on my local city, Saginaw MI’s Art and About facebook page for their Painted Piano Project, I knew I had to enter just to have a new art goal to work towards. Only 12 entries would be selected, so I didn’t go into this with any expectation of being chosen, and figured it would just be fun to give it a try. I was shocked to not only find out I was chosen, but that my entry won 3rd place for People’s Choice while they were displayed at the Saginaw Art Museum! Guys, I have never won people’s choice anything since the time I tried to run for student council secretary in 5th grade and got the least number of votes, despite my very impressive posters. Generally, popular opinion and I are not friends or even distant acquaintances, so, I will consider my life experience padded.

The project is exactly what it sounds like … I will be covering a piano with my artwork very soon! I may live to regret the level of detail I have committed myself to, but I don’t do simple. My instrument has yet to be delivered, but I will definitely keep everyone updated as I begin the process! The pianos will be scattered throughout the city all summer, available for people to play.

Some other adventures this month are the Midland Artists Guild Annual Juried Exhibition, which I look forward to every year.

This time around, I am so grateful to have been awarded 2nd place overall for my piece, “July: She Is Free”, one from my “Unlimited” series that is very close to my heart. I hope to continue to open minds and push the bounds of what beauty and empowerment look like through my art.

Another highlight of this month, my boyfriend and I finally got to see our favorite play live! This after going to a whimsical arcade bar and overdosing on 90s nostalgia with the X-Men Arcade game and some N64 Mario Kart, so basically the perfect early-birthday trip.

I know traditionally a lot of mourning goes on leading up to one’s 30th birthday, but I have to say this has been a pretty epic month so far, so bring it on!

 

 

 

Artists To Know: In Dreams

I haven’t done an “Artists To Know” installment in quite awhile, and have bookmarks of inspiring artists piling up by the minute – The internet is wonderful ^_^! The artists I have picked today all create dreamlike worlds through their art, causing the viewer to get lost in detailed landscapes that could only exist in the artists’ imaginations, almost as if they are inviting viewers into their own inner fantasies. All are 2-dimensional works this time except the last, which is really something special, so be sure to look all the way to the end! This style of fantasy-like, surreal art is my absolute favorite. I hope you enjoy, or at least see something you’ve never seen before!

Lucy Hardie

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Lucy Hardie is an Australian artist who began her education at a Waldorf school built by her parents. With her parents’ encouragement, she studied art history and the Masters at an earlier age than most. This foundation was obvious to me right away in the style and subject matter of her work. Parts of it look like they are from another time… but then other parts resemble a time that has not yet existed, and this seamless meshing of the two along with the exquisite fine details are what make her work so captivating to me.

Hsaio Ron Cheng

 

Hsaio Ron Cheng hails from Taiwan, and is a digital artist and illustrator. The bio on her website says she was born in 1986, only 2 years before me which makes me feel like I’m slacking! Her portfolio encompasses a wide range of personal and commercial work, all in her signature palette of peachy, pastel, diluted colors. The unusual color choices are actually what first drew me to her work, and made her illustrations stand out.

Daria Hilazatova

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Daria Hilazatova describes herself as a “full-time artist, part-time elf” in the bio on her website, and sites her inspiration as “fairytales, theater, and nonsense”. Whimsical and fantastical theatrical elements abound in all of her drawings. Her illustrations are distinct and different from anything else I have ever seen, truly 100% from the artist’s imagination. The other element that differentiates her art from anything I’ve seen previously is the insane amount of detail! One has to squint to see all of the intricate patterns making up each image, and the longer one looks, the more they notice details they had originally missed.

Alexandra Levasseur

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The image above is what first prompted me to investigate more of Levasseur’s work, but she also has a ton of fantastic paintings in which the subjects are merging into painted landscapes which I’d encourage you to check out on her website. There is strong movement and emotion in each of her pieces, all of which are incredibly surreal. Her figures are realistic, but she mixes in a lot of more painterly or sketchy elements as well, making it look as if her subjects have jumped inside a delightful hand painted world and gotten lost there.

Benjamin Shine

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I told you the last one was a good one! I can’t even wrap my brain around how this works, but below is a video that shows artist Benjamin Shine in action as he creates his tulle “paintings”. Shine studied fashion design at The Surrey Institute of Art and Design and Central St Martins in London. I can’t even iron shirts properly, so conceiving of how these gorgeous, smokey portraits can be born out of an iron and some thread makes my head nearly explode. Who said there is nothing new under the sun? Shine has certainly discovered something that has never been done before.

I hope you’ve enjoyed your Sunday inspiration! Get out there and do something amazing with the rest of your weekend! 🙂

 

Artsnacks February Unboxing!

art snacks box febTime for another Artsnacks unboxing!

This month I received:

art snacks febI used these materials to create a journal page I’d been planning to create in the future anyway, featuring a movie still of Maria from the classic film Metropolis and one of my favorite lines. Now for the reviews!

I was really excited to see watercolor supplies in this box. I thought I was being all fancy shmancy when I upgraded from Artist Loft liquid watercolors to Loew-Cornell, but OHMYGOD I can’t really explain the experience of using the Sennelier watercolors in any other way than PAINTGASM. No wonder it was marked as a staff favorite! The colors flowed from the brush like a dream, and I am now addicted and will have to budget for some of these $11.75 per tube watercolors “Formulated with honey from the Alps”. The watercolor paper was very nice as well. The quality was telltale as the paints soaked right in without laying on top of the paper, and it could hold up to a lot of layering without my having to let it dry in between – no paper pilling!

The Micron pen, a brand new product, was also phenomenal. The plastic nib drew far better on the watercolor paper than other pens I’ve used for lining watercolor art. It produced a smooth, even line and didn’t get “caught” in the bumps on the paper. It also dried significantly quicker, allowing me to get right to the painting.

The precision brush was another win! It worked great for washes, but also made perfect thin lines when fine detail was called for. The bristles didn’t fan out and the paint stayed in the brush until pressure was applied no matter how wet I had it – no unwelcome sploshes spreading out across the page. I will keep these in mind when I need to refresh my watercolor brush supply.

Rounding off this review with only gushing joy and zero complaints, we have the sketching pencil. I love how light this pencil draws, perfect for sketching an outline in watercolor artwork where you don’t want the lines to show through the paint. I also love the extra durability and break-resistant feature in its construction that was noted on my menu, as I am always breaking my freaking pencils!!! I must go into hulk mode when I get inspired or something, because it is just crazy.

I have adored this second box even more than the first, and am looking forward to more fun mail in march!

 

First Art Snacks Box, First Art Journal Entry!

artsnacks boxSo, I was having a really rough week y’all … and then I got this in the mail.

I had gotten an artsnacks subscription for Christmas, and being a virgin to subscription boxes in general, was excited to see what it was all about and hopefully discover some awesome new products for art making!

art snacks janThe January box came with:

  • A Uni-Posca PCF-350 Brush Tip Paint Marker
  • 2 Maribu Graphix Aqua Pens
  • A Tombow Fudenosuke Soft Tip Brush Pen
  • A Sakura SumoGrip Mechanical Pencil
  • And a cat joke: What do you call a painting by a cat?
  • A green Lifesaver

art journal artsnacks janI decided to do what a lot of artsnacks subscribers do after receiving their box, and join the fun of challenging myself to create a little picture using only the products in my box for the month. This is also a great way to test out the materials, especially if they are unfamiliar to you. Another fun thing about artnsnacks is the fact that the colors of the products you receive are totally random … The royal blue was lovely, but that olivey/sage green and bright orange? – maybe ok separate but kind of yikes together. So, here is my unique green penguin, swimming beneath the chilly arctic waters.

All in all I thought this was an interesting first box, especially for someone like me who is primarily a drawing based artist but also holds a lot of love for watercolor. I’ll start with my favorite products, which were hands down the mechanical pencil and Tombow pen. I own a lot of black liner pens in a huge range of line weights, but I had never owned a pen whose line weight is dependent on the pressure you apply. This is a fantastic feature for adding more depth to outlines, and it is pretty intuitive. The brush tip is firm, and it is easy to control the weight you want. I.e. – it doesn’t suddenly “blob” out a big fat black line with the slightest pressure. The mechanical pencil has a fantastic eraser which is a huge plus – The quality of your eraser sometimes matters even more than the quality of the pencils you are using! The rubber grip, besides having a cute name, practically gives your fingers a massage as you are drawing – even for someone like me who holds their pencil wrong ;)!

Next, onto the Aqua Pens … The colors are super saturated and these are obviously artist grade. These were marked as a staff favorite. I have to say though, as far as pens that can be used with watercolors I still prefer Tombow’s Dual Brush Pens. The Aqua Pens seemed to not blend as well as with water as the Tombow ones I am used to – you could still see the original sketch marks though the color did spread with water. I noticed they washed better when I worked on smaller areas at a time without letting the ink dry as much in between. When you want more of an illustrative look with super BOLD color that doesn’t fade with the water, however, these would be perfect.

Lastly, the brush tip paint marker – marked on the product list as brand new to the market … I experienced a bit of sticker shock reading the retail price of these – 10 bucks for a SINGLE marker! But, they are unlike any paint pen I have ever seen given the fact that the brush tip is an actual bristled nylon brush. It is more rigid than a traditional painting brush and maintains it’s shape even when pressure is applied, so it is a true hybrid between marker and paint brush. I can see these being fantastic for the classes I manage with Express Yourself Artshop at Creative 360. The added control of using a paintbrush in pen form like this would be great for painters who have mild to severe dexterity issues or shaky hands due to age, injury, or disability, or anyone who struggles with fine motor skills but loves to paint. If it weren’t for that darn price tag … we are a non-profit after all. Donations, anyone? 😉

My assistant at work /slash/ really cool art friend /slash/ art educator teaches an art journaling class and has been trying to get me into starting an art journal. Another surprise Christmas gift I received was lo and behold, a mixed media art journal! It’s a sign. I’m a big reader, so, in addition to my monthly artsnacks challenges, I am going to play around with journaling some of my favorite quotes from books I’ve compiled. With my first two, I kept them mainly illustrative with a lot of white space but I am going to do more with texture/mixed media backgrounds for my next one, whatever that may be.

Be sure to check back for more unboxings! ❤

P.S. The answer to the joke was a paw-trait.

P.P.S. I may be so opposed to the orange and green color combo due to new home renovation trauma. This was what our mud room looked like when we moved in.

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