Art Discussion : Deliverance

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I have always thought of doing an art discussion post on this particular piece. Whenever I show it, everyone wants to know the story behind it as the fact that there is a symbolic visual narrative is clearer in this piece than in many of my others. Still, I have been putting it off for quite some time because explaining the concept behind this piece is very personal and would involve being really freaking transparent, so hold onto your hats. (I’m actually a big fan of transparency, but it usually manifests itself in the form of out-bursting deeply personal information in a sort of accidental social vomit, not neatly typing my feelings out for the world to see.)

This painting is a prayer.


When I started this piece, I was newly graduated from college and had been back to living in my childhood home for awhile afterward, which was super uncomfortable. I’m sorry, no matter how much you love your family it just is, unless said family adopts a sort of chill,  we are mutual adults living together almost like roommates sort of attitude, which nearly never happens.

I’d just finished training for a new job in sales that I already knew I was going to hate. Approaching tons of random people I don’t know all day and having to make forced conversation until they buy something? I might as well just get into the fetal position now for efficiency’s sake. The month long training involved driving 3 hours away and staying in a hotel with all the other trainees, and everyone was either horrifyingly mean and offensive or overtly sexually creepy. On more than one occasion, I finished a bottle of wine by myself sitting alone in my hotel room and I’m not a huge drinker. Not by any means advisable, but I honestly could not conceive of getting through this sordid affair without self medicating no matter how physically and mentally unhealthy. I’d had anxiety so bad 2 years before during my junior year of college that I had actually experienced brief hallucinations brought on by stress. I was not looking to have that be a repeat experience.

Even before I had embarked on my ill-fated new job, my emotions had been cycling out of control. I felt like my body was constantly sending off fight or flight signals, releasing chemicals that triggered the feeling that I was about to be chased by a tiger, except nothing was actually wrong. I would be elated and laughing and feeling creative and motivated one minute, and then suddenly this deep sense of dread like the sky was filled with pianos tied up on ropes that were about to all drop down on my head like I was in a Bugs Bunny cartoon would shake me to my core. I’d always been someone who felt BIG. When I feel joy, it’s intense and when I feel despair, it’s intense. I like to think it’s worth it for the times of joy, where the littlest thing can make me jump up and down like a little kid. A lot of people use that sense of celebration in the smallest details of life as they get older.

The first time I heard this song by one of my favorite artists, these lyrics really resonated with me because I think one of my biggest fears is people who never express their emotions. It’s just so foreign to me.

…But I would kill to make you feel
I’d kill to move your face an inch
I see you staring into space
I wanna stick my fist into your mouth
And twist your Arctic heart

The rapid up and down thing I was going through was something different, however. I’d always been in control of my mind and I felt like I wasn’t anymore. For someone who really likes to be in control of absolutely everything at all times, it was terrifying (I make itineraries for day trips even if I’m only traveling 20 minutes out of town. Excel spreadsheet lists are my best friends. Change plans on me at the last minute? Not unless you have a death wish. Just to give you a bit of insight…) It was also exhausting because the thing is, when your mind keeps sliding into that fight or flight state you actually feel as if you’ve just been in an extremely stressful and dangerous situation whether anything has happened or not. The fatigue is the same.

Another thing you may or may not know about me is that I am a Christian, albeit a Christian who has never felt very at home in the ofttimes bizarre sort of bubble of Christian culture (I swear people must have been able to sense it, because youth group was terrible. Maybe they could smell it like dogs smell fear.). This is mainly because it has always felt very exclusive, and also because being a female puts me in a sort of precarious situation with religion in general. It’s why the subject of “Women and Religion” actually has an entire college course of study devoted to it. Organized religion of any belief system tends to not be too kind to the ladies. (If I actually behaved how those super conservative “complementarian” advice articles advised that I do to be a “Godly woman”, never expressing a damn thought without asking “What do you think honey?” first, my current boyfriend would toss me off of our balcony. Or have me committed, one or the other. I found a keeper ;).) Basically, they just don’t seem to leave a lot of room for people actually being created with variation, people’s brains, hearts, and minds each working a little differently from the other. Luckily, Jesus doesn’t need you to be a robot that copies what everyone else in his bandwagon thinks, and He doesn’t need you to join any super special cool kids club. Also, despite how people like to twist religious truths to allow them to control others, he actually validated and lifted women up in contrast to society at the time. Don’t believe me? Some discussions on this issue can be found on God’s Word to Women, Sojourners, and a great interview on Christianity Today with one of my favorite christian writers, Sarah Bessey.

This is the first overtly faith based piece I’ve ever created, though my faith, my beliefs, and my passions inadvertently end up in all of my work in bits and pieces. I was obviously at a breaking point, and I was reluctantly praying about my struggle. I really didn’t even want to, because to be honest, I was frustrated, and I was pissed off. This was not what adult life was supposed to be like. I wasn’t supposed to still be dealing with this crap; I wasn’t supposed to still feel anxious and lost and overwhelmed; I wasn’t supposed to still feel like an outsider no matter where I put myself. Since drawing helps me focus and communicate my thoughts, I decided to draw my prayer.

Dealing with intense anxiety cages you. You aren’t able to function as your normal self, or even interact with others in the same way because every ounce of your energy goes into self care and basically trying to not feel like garbage all the time. This painting is a right to left narrative. A death version of the theatrical comedy/tragedy masks are embedded into this girl’s torso near the location of where her heart would normally rest. Hands are coming up from behind her and touching her shoulder in an act of comfort, you are not alone. The hands represent God, but they are not passive like a pat on the back or a “there there, everything will be ok”. They are active and forceful, saying “No, I will not let you continue to suffer.” A suffocating darkness creeps up from below. In the next part of the narrative, those same hands are breaking the mask in two, and out of the center, though still tangled, falls the girl; her true inner self, out of the cage. She is holding a watering can. In the final part on the far right, she is fully escaped from the prison inside the mask and water flows from the watering can she is holding, while silhouettes of human figures with flowers at their hearts stand in it’s spray. She is “watering” their souls, symbolized by the flowers.

When we go through tough things, we can use our experiences to better connect with and support others. No, that doesn’t mean the trials we go through are “good” (Seriously, “everything happens for a reason” has to be my least favorite platitude, and I really, really hate platitudes), but it means we can use something that was bad for good later on. Because of the struggles with anxiety I have experienced, I am able to better relate to a lot of my Artshop students and their mental health struggles which are oftentimes far more severe than what I have dealt with. I am better able to help them when they are going through a panic attack situation, better able to understand why on some days it bothers them to have a lot of noise during class when they are already on edge, better able to understand and empathize with the fact that they were fine an hour ago, and now are very upset even though nothing tangible has changed. I am able to be someone who says, “I hear you. Your feelings are legitimate. And you are not alone”.

A week or so passed afterward, and I ceased experiencing the out of the ordinary, rapid ups and downs.

No, my anxiety has not magically “poof!” disappeared, but over time  I have become far better at managing it and breaking out of its cage using a variety of learned techniques. For some, engaging in their faith and educating themselves on emotional management techniques isn’t enough and they may need to additionally seek counseling or medication. Everyone is different, and there should be no judgement.

Also, everyone should read this post about high functioning anxiety. I have never been able to articulate an experience so well, and it is a must read for all in my opinion, because I do not think this experience is uncommon. I think people just are apprehensive, like I was, to talk about it. I guarantee someone in your life right now needs you to know this.

What are some things you do to recenter yourself when everything around you feels out of control?

 

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I’m Not The Only One Who’s Been Busy This Summer …

The summer flew by, and while I think this summer for me has been the most productive yet as far as art making, I am not the only one who has been hard at work. My Express Yourself Artshop students really applied themselves creatively, and pumped out a lot of amazing art over this past semester. Hard to believe what one can accomplish in only 6 weeks! I’ve shared some of the highlights here.

Grace, Watercolor

Grace, Watercolor

Nancy, Ink Drawing

Nancy, Ink Drawing

Brenda, Handmade Tote Bag

Brenda, Handmade Tote Bag

Lacey, Acrylic

Lacey, Acrylic

For those who haven’t read my blog before, Express Yourself Artshop is an art program I work with that is open to those of all abilities, and is an accepting, friendly and safe environment to artists with physical and mental disabilities. I know myself how important creating can be as a tool for expressing what you feel like you can’t with words, and how it has the ability to calm the mind and soul out of tumult and provide a reprieve from the stress and sometimes heavy weight of everyday life. One of my students loves owls, and so we collaborated on some trippy, colorful owls done in my go-to style for these birds (shown below). I drew in pencil, she outlined and painted. Along with an affinity for owls, we also share a love of Deco Art’s Glamour Dust craft paints – a win-win.

Look familiar? So glad to share my enthusiasm for quirky, surrealist owls!

Look familiar? So glad to share my enthusiasm for quirky, surrealist owls!

Anne Marie, Ink and Acrylic With Glamor Dust

Anne Marie, Ink and Acrylic With Glamor Dust

I love these people, and the unfamiliar environment of being in a truly judgement-free space … Everyone simply accepts and embraces each other as they are. I feel so loved in return while I am there, and it is one of the few places I don’t feel pressured to put on an act (Convenient, as I’ve never quite mastered the art of situationally adjusting my personality. For better or for worse, I just can’t seem to grasp that particular life skill.). I can’t wait for next semester. I’m going to be channeling my inner Mark Montano and doing a really cool DIY decor class, so hopefully that gets some interest. I am right on the cusp of finishing two new projects that will be going up with a selection of other pieces at Espresso Milano coffee shop in Midland in September, so I will be sharing that soon.

Montano, seriously, what a snazzy guy.

New Work – The Enchantress

Behold! In progress photos from instagram (allisenoble)! It’s been quite a journey.

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11752533_10103316100020988_1678764587642196268_nThis piece was inspired first by the cockatoos. I then based the figure off of what I thought this bird’s matching human counterpart would look like. I wanted to use primarily pinks because pink is a color that is hardly ever found in serious art (i.e. not pretty-little-princess-time children’s picture books), and you know, it’s just light red so I don’t know what everyone is  so afraid of ;). I used ink for the birds and branches, pencil for the figure’s face and hair, watercolor for the background, and accented in metallic silver acrylic. The figure is mysterious and enchanting. The word “enchantress” is often cast in a negative way, as either a fantasy villain or else scheming heart-breaker. The dictionary definition of an enchantress is a “charming, irresistible woman”. It goes on to give examples such as “dangerous, sexually exploits innocent men”. Oh really? [insert facepalm here]. A woman can be powerful and captivating, mesmerizing and awe-inspiring, without being discredited as somehow “untrustworthy” or “dangerous” because of her strengths. It’s all in how you use the power that you radiate. I wanted to show a softer, positive side to the descriptor as a beautiful, intelligent and thoughtful, creative soul that shines a light wherever she goes. Let me know what you think!

the enchantress

Creating Mixed Media Work Inspired By Photography

I love mixed media work that layers and collages varying elements into one piece, but still creates a cohesive universe, a dreamworld with the same depth and breadth as the natural world around us. I’ve found the best way to create mixed media work that maintains perspective and three-dimensionality is to base your piece off of photos you’ve taken. I usually build a concept first, then find photos that support the design I’ve constructed in my head. Those that don’t know where to start can begin with a photo that has meaning to them, one they find inspiring, or one that just plain looks pretty and build from there. I’m going to take you through my process for creating mixed media pieces inspired by photography, but each person may approach their own process a little differently once they get started.

The Dance, Awarded Best 2D; prismacolor pencil, ink, watercolor, fabric, book pages, embroidery thread

The Dance, Awarded Best 2D “Piece By Piece” at Creative 360 Gallery; prismacolor pencil, ink, watercolor, fabric, book pages, embroidery thread

Quite literally, frolicking in the woods. I knew these poses wood come in handy for something one day ...

Quite literally, frolicking in the woods. I knew these poses would come in handy for something one day …

An outtake from playtime :)

An outtake from playtime 🙂

Once you have your concept and your photo(s), the first thing you want to do is break your image down into components, and decide what material will be used for which component. A sketchbook comes in real handy for jotting down notes during this part of the *adventure*.

For “The Dance”, I first thought of what needed texture, and what didn’t. The ground covered in fallen leaves was certainly full of visual texture, as was the bark on the trees. The figures and the path could be left flat – you don’t want to overdo the texture or a piece can get confusing. Framed by the raised texture, this would also help the figures stand out as the focus. Only a handful of the trees in the woods were actually birch, but I knew I wanted a lot of light colors so the girl’s gowns would be in stark contrast to the background, similar to in the black and white photograph. Therefore, I decided to make all the trees in my mixed media birch bark. FYI, book pages are fantastic as birch bark. The color is already spot on, and the all over text compliments the black circles and rings that tattoo its surface. I twisted the paper into thin tendrils for the roots and branches to bring the trees off the page. As for the ground, I used torn muslin fabric. The white color allowed me to use the fabric similar to plain paper once applied, and layer watercolor paint over it until it reached the desired color. Torn fabric is great for ground cover because it frays, creating a believable texture all on its own. I knew I wanted the dresses to be done in ink because ink appears lighter in weight and airier, and would communicate the translucent flow of the skirt. Colored pencil works well for tiny, precise detail and I also am far better at drawing the human body than painting it, which is why I used pencil for the head and hands. Ink was used for the path as well, because once again I wanted a “light” feel to the path to help it stand out and so I could better capture the strong light source hitting it from the sun. The ink also transitions well into watercolor. Transitions are still important even in more “assemblage” type projects. When creating mixed media scenes, though you are in essence collaging, you don’t want to completely have that seamed together, cut and paste look.

The choices I made for “The Dance” were based on two things; first, what look do I want to achieve but also second, what is practical based on my strengths and weaknesses with the various materials? This second deciding factor will be different for each artist. I have learned from teaching that many, many other artists do not enjoy drawing people as much as I do, and quite a few even flat out despise it. If this is you, for a piece with people in it you may choose to have the figures printed and cut them out, pasting them into the scene rather than drawing them. A way to work photography into the piece so it doesn’t look separate from the rest of the environment would be to perhaps print them in black and white or sepia and then “colorize” the photos by lightly shading over the eyes, hair, cheeks, etc. with a colored pencil. You can also add three dimensional elements over the photo such as some fabric leaves blowing across the body, a small paper flower on the person’s jacket or in their hair, or gluing actual fabric over their clothing. This “anchors” the photo of the person/people within the environment to become part of the entire piece rather than a separate cutout element.

"Actually, It Is This World That's Too Small", Mixed Media

“Actually, It Is This World That’s Too Small”, Mixed Media

My 10 year reunion is coming up next year, and the clothes I used to wear are officially beginning to look silly. Short sleeved turtleneck sweaters for the win! And always striped tights, because The Dresden Dolls (would still rock those!)

My 10 year reunion is coming up next year, and the clothes I used to wear in high school are officially beginning to look silly. Cap sleeved turtleneck sweaters and pre-worn jean skirts for the win! And always striped tights, because Amy Brown fairies and The Dresden Dolls (I would still rock those!)

“Actually, It Is This World That’s Too Small” is a mixed media piece I based on a photo a friend took in high school while we were hanging out, playing around with cameras in my basement. I never felt that I shared much in common with “typical” teenage girls, but a desire to constantly take photos of each other was one stereotypical trait my friends and I all did share – just sometimes my photos involved face painting or cardboard masks rather than manicures and false eyelashes. I found it interesting how the angle of the photograph made it look like the door behind me was miniature, like the door the white rabbit escapes through in Alice In Wonderland. You can see how the photo serves as a guide and an inspiration, but by no means dictates what your final piece has to look like. Creative alterations are always an option, and encouraged.

Old family photo with Grandpa (I can't believe I'm posting this, but for the sake of art ... I will publicly expose baby photos - at least the non-embarassing ones).

Old family photo with Grandpa (I can’t believe I’m posting this, but for the sake of art … I will publicly expose baby photos to the online universe – at least the non-embarassing ones).

What’s really awesome is that beyond conceptual art, you can apply this same technique to family photos, and make a truly meaningful piece of work that is entirely personal. I’m going to talk you through how I would approach this photograph above if I were going to turn it into a mixed media piece. This will give you another example that will hopefully help you solidify how to proceed on a project of your own. I would probably draw the people since I adore portraits and figures, but once again if figures are not your thing, you could print yours from an enlarged photo and collage them in – it’s totally allowed :). There is really no reason to just color in a solid red shirt, so I would probably trace a pattern to get the right shape, and then cut the sweater out of fabric and paste it over my grandpa like I did with the purple dress in the staircase piece shown previously. Remember, always look for places to add interest with different materials. Due to the light, reflective nature of the window glass, I would use a mix of ink and watercolor for that part. The bricks are definitely the most textural element in this particular photo, so for those I would mix a gritty element like sand into acrylic paint, and create a rough, uneven texture in dark red on the wall. Once dry, I would then paint the grey cement lines over with a thin brush. For the sake of my sanity and also to make it more interesting and less institutional looking, I would probably change the brick to an uneven pattern of varying size and shape as opposed to the uniformity that was there in real life. How else can we add interest? In the photo, there are no flower boxes on the windowsill, but why can’t there be? You can cut flowers out of paper or white fabric and color them with ink or watercolor, or you can glue on small ribbon rosettes available in the floral or wedding aisle of most craft stores.

I hope this post has given you some ideas, and I’d like to end with a simple (though not set in stone) guide as to when certain materials are most beneficial when creating your own mixed media wonderland.

Watercolor: overall background coverage, light or translucent forms, florals, glass, water

Ink: flowers and plants, light or translucent forms, fabric, glass, water, figures/faces/skin/hair

Colored Pencil: small details, figures/faces/skin/hair, birds or furry animals, stone or bark

Fabric: clothing, flowers and plants, ground cover (soil, grass, leaves, etc), interior wallpaper

Book Pages: trees and bark, interior wallpaper, flowers

Sand Mixed With Paint: brick, stone, dirt

Other Accoutrements: embroidery thread sewn through the paper as anything composed of thin lines: tree branches, eyelashes, veins, flower stems …; small ribbon flowers, tiny prints on photo paper as interior wall art, strung seed beads or glued on flatback rhinestones as jewelry, use your imagination and don’t be afraid to try something new!

Feel free to comment or message if you need any advice on a project you’re working on or a new one you are beginning. I’m happy to help!

Art Discussion – “The Way I See It …”

In progress!

A rare in progress photo! I nearly never take these.

Many times I like to keep quiet about the specific message I had in mind when creating a piece, because I like my work to be allowed to speak to each viewer differently based on their own unique thoughts and experiences. At the same time, I myself am a curious individual and I hate when other artists flat our refuse to share what a piece means with their audience. So, every so often on this blog I want to pick a piece with a lot to say and explain the thoughts behind it. Today I’ve selected “The Way I See It”.

The Way I See It ... , 18x24 Watercolor, Ink, and Prismacolor Pencil

The Way I See It … , 18×24 Watercolor, Ink, and Prismacolor Pencil

In this piece, an average young woman sits, quiet and composed. She sits straight-backed, hands in her lap, legs together. The viewer can discern her reserved and unimposing nature simply based on how little space she purposefully occupies. Like many, she is probably good and bad, but mostly good. The other figure looks at her and sees evil. He can only see her shortcomings or what he views as such, and blames her for them as if any part of her person he doesn’t like was a planned attack against him. He paints her as a vampire, a monster, a whore. While she passively sits, he smears paint on her clothing and on her skin as he touches her. (An interjection, the gender choices in this piece are not significant. It is simply easier to depict the main character in this narrative as a woman so I could draw from my own perspective of when I have felt treated this way. The figures’ roles could easily be reversed, or it could be two men or two women.) The artist is delighted and proud of his portrait, his telling of her story and who she is as a person, be it true or not. Truth doesn’t matter when one is convinced they are right.

We run into serious problems when we let others be the artists or creators of our story, when we let them tell us who we are. Like the paint smears covering the young woman, as we let them sully what we think of ourselves, our own essence literally floats away before we even notice. Meanwhile, their incorrect perception creeps in like a vapor, taking its place.

Stories are tricky. We are not omnipresent, nor can we view the past or future in real time. So, when we view a situation, we are only inputting a piece of the overall story. We don’t like incompletes, it’s why in Hollywood Blockbusters everything gets hurriedly and inconceivably tied up all within the last 5 minutes of the movie, and we love it. Back to the situation we’ve just viewed, one of many in a given day: how do we complete the story we’ve caught just a chapter of? By either consciously or unconsciously inventing the rest of it in our minds. We can fit the puzzle pieces together so seamlessly that we often will even remember the inferred story as fact. We may have come close to truth … but then again there is a good chance we have not.

“What you remember is determined by what you see, and what you see depends on what you remember … a cycle that has to be broken” Tim O’Brien writes in his novel Going After Cacciato. No object or person is visually neutral. Think of our brains as a giant search engine. I’m going to get very simplified here – we see a person in a blue shirt. We “type” the input “blue shirt” and up pops images, videos, memories of all the experiences we’ve ever had with people with blue shirts. It’s hard to emotionally separate our memories from this new experience. We could see a person we’ve never even met as malicious simply because we’ve had negative interactions with others who look like them in the past. We could see a country or city as sinister, be wary of a new activity or experience because our memories literally distort our perceptions.

Chimamanda Adichie is a Nigerian novelist, and she also has a few great Ted Talks which is how I discovered her. This talk I’ve included a link to below about stories is fantastic. I was so interested when I came upon it after finishing this piece, because it deals with many of the issues I was thinking about when I came up with the artistic concept. I would highly recommend a listen.

I would also welcome any thoughts you may have on stories, perception and memory, or any different way you might have interpreted this piece. Sharing is fun, don’t be shy!