Artists To Know: Black History Month

It’s been awhile since I’ve done an Artists To Know post, and I wanted to take the opportunity for February to highlight some of my favorite black artists currently working – most new, some mentioned before. Enjoy, and be inspired!

Lina Iris Viktor

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Viktor is a British – Liberian artist based in New York who creates “queenly self portraits with a futuristic edge”. Everyone knows I’m a sucker for surreal, fantasy-like portraiture and after coming across the image above, I had an instant new favorite! Viktor studied film, photography, and design and uses all of these backgrounds to create her unique fantasy worlds that combine elements of painting, sculpture, photography, and performance. What makes her art so compelling to me is the contrast of seemingly opposite elements … Her works are detailed with a lot of pattern and texture to look at but the colors are kept minimal; many of the scenes she creates are contemporary or futuristic in appearance, but still contain elements of the classical. As well as a diverse study of art, she also had a diverse upbringing as far as culture, being raised in London by Liberian parents and also spending time living in Johannesburg, South Africa. Viktor aims to use her immersive scenes to convey a philosophical commentary on both a social and historical “preconception of blackness”. Her work is a category all its own.

Woodrow Nash

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Nash is an artist from Akron, OH who works in stoneware, earthenware, terracotta, and porcelain. He is most well known for his unique bust sculptures that capture an expression, depth, and personality that I have never felt before in this type of art. He began as an illustrator, working as a fashion illustrator in New York in the mid 70s and then returning to the Midwest to do technical illustrations. Just as he uses multiple materials for his sculptures, he also employs various firing methods from pit firing, to electric, to raku (one of my personal favorites!). He calls his style “African nouveau”, because although it is influenced by African cultural aesthetic he blends in elements of art nouveau, and his sculptures tend to appeal to a wider audience beyond just those of African heritage. Each gorgeous figure he creates has a story, and they draw you in instantly.

Kehinde Wiley

If you can’t already tell, creative portraiture is my thing. I love portraits that transport the viewer to a new place of the artists’ making, where every pattern that is used is not only decorative, but an element that is used to speak to the subject’s unique psychology. I have been a fan of Wiley’s unique, powerful style of portraiture for a long time, and was excited when he was chosen to do Obama’s official portrait. Possessing a MFA from Yale, he combines contemporary figures with aesthetic elements from the past, giving his portraits a surreal, timeless feel. One of his most recent projects for the Saint Louis Art Museum featured oil paintings of black men and women dressed in their own clothing, styled for their usual everyday, posed in traditional poses from European and American art history to make a comment about under-representation. The photographic realism coupled with ornate pattern and creative approach make it no wonder his work has garnered the acclaim it has. His art is a testament to the fact that it is possible for an artist to stay true to themselves and not follow the crowd, and still be successful.

Tawny Chatmon

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A self proclaimed “army brat”, Chatmon did a lot of traveling as a kid and had resided in 3 different continents by the age of 12. Once settled in the US, she turned more in the creative direction of theater. She didn’t start getting into photography until her early 20s, when she was gifted a camera at 19 and through self teaching and experimentation saw an opportunity to make a living through the lens. After losing her father to a battle with cancer in 2010, Chatmon’s portrait photography became not only a career but a way to communicate and process emotions, an art. What first drew me to her work was the image above, part of her series titled “Deeply Embedded”. The composition and heavy use of pattern on the clothing reminded  me a bit of Gustav Klimt, one of my favorites from art history. Chatmon writes about this series on her website, “Deeply Embedded was created during a time where I continued to come across negativity centered around natural black hair & styles. Anger followed by frustration and sadness forced me to refocus that energy into creating work to speak for me as our words fell upon deaf ears.” There are many different forms of beauty in our world, and photography is the perfect medium to capture that fact.

Pierre Jean-Louis

 

I love art that plays with the merging of people and their environments, which is why I found this 26 year old artist’s work so inspiring. This self taught artist from New Jersey grew up in a deeply conservative religious household, but also a deeply creative one being the son of successful Haitian painter Bonaventure Jean-Louis. He moved beyond his roots with multimedia approaches, taking his inspiration from the beauty of the natural world that God has created, and with his series “Black Girl Magic”, explores specifically the beauty of natural hair. Models’ hair is transformed into forest, flowers, and galaxies, making a comment against exclusionary beauty standards.

I hope you will take the time to explore more of these artists’ amazing work. It was so hard to pick just one or two images to highlight!

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February ArtSnacks Unboxing!

Hey guys! So, I was very candid about hating the end result of my ArtSnacks Challenge from last month, and this month threw me another curve ball with a medium I have consistently avoided when at all possible, even in high school and later college art classes: chalk pastels!

In my February box, I received a:

As I eluded to, I have never been a fan of pastels, charcoal, or any chalky medium mainly because I struggle to get the fine detail I want as someone who also likes to work small; I can’t keep it from getting where I don’t want while I’m working (messy, messy, messy!); and I have a weird thing where I just hate the feeling of it on my hands as well. Still, I did enjoy using these more than most. The quality is great even for one like me who doesn’t know what they’re doing as far as pastels, the colors were rich, and they did stay put on the paper much better than lower quality soft pastels. I’m going to skip ahead to the Kraft Paper, because this paired perfectly with the pastels. Comparing the feel and ease of blending on the swatch of Kraft Paper compared to the mixed media paper in my journal, there was no contest. It just goes to show that the right paper can do wonders! The brown tone really made my colors pop too, and lent such a finished, harmonious look especially with my earthtoned set.

I’ve mentioned before I almost exclusively use mechanical pencils, and the Zebra DelGuard is another nice one! I’ve never been disappointed by a mechanical pencil sent in my ArtSnacks box. The led was smooth and dark, and I love the fact that there is a built in mechanism to keep leds from breaking! Though I don’t usually use kneaded erasers most of the time, the eraser that came in my box was also quite nice and will come in handy when I am doing commission requests that are entirely in graphite.

Last but certainly not least, the artist pen that came in this box was my absolute favorite item! With white paint pens, oftentimes it takes 2 coats but this India Ink based pen had perfect coverage with one go-over. I was also shocked at how well it wrote over the pastel! The tip didn’t even get much discoloration … It hardly absorbed any of the pastel and just needed a little scribble on a scrap piece of paper to clean it off at the end. I could see how a lot of neat effects could be created with this in much of my mixed media work, and will definitely be getting more of these.

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As mentioned, I am NOT a pastel artist by any stretch of the imagination, but I let the pencil outlining help me out and I do like this month’s result better than January’s! February being black history month, I chose to illustrate a portrait of Haben Girma with a powerful quote of hers that has stuck with me. Girma is a deaf-blind graduate of Harvard Law School, and a fierce advocate for disability rights which is an issue close to my heart, especially given that my day job is running an inclusive creative arts program open to adults with varying disabilities. I’d encourage you to read more about this amazing lady, and watch some of her talks.

“Fear causes people to lose so much. Lose potential knowledge, lose potential friends. I wish people would stop living in fear and start asking questions so that they can learn. “

 

 

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.

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! 🙂